Summer on Fire by Kevin T Craig
I'm going to be trying something new and cutting down all the extra info I use in my reviews. I hope that y'all don't mind me testing out my new (hopefully) review format!
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing
Zach Carson is a loyal friend. But is loyalty enough to keep best friends together when one of them sets fire to the rural barn they use as the local hangout? Zach, Jeff Barsell and Arnie Wilson struggle to pick up the pieces when news spreads that a body was discovered in the burnt out shell of the neighbouring home. When the word murder is used by the local police, the stakes grow even higher. When the police start searching for their most likely suspect-none other than Jeff's older brother, and nemesis, Marty Barsell-the boys decide to join forces and come up with a way to prove his innocence. But just how innocent is Marty Barsell? When Marty admits to being at the scene of the crime, the three friends enlist the help of Zach's annoying sister, Sherry, as well as the sympathetic town eccentric, Ms. Halverton. But can they keep it together long enough to save Marty, and themselves, from imminent catastrophe? Summer on Fire is the story of friendships, and the lines we are asked to cross in order to keep them.
It's a small town, where almost nothing ever happens. We do see the crockety old man, the bored kids recycling the same hangouts, and the hidden secrets as a familiar. But nothing about this story is familiar. Zach, Jeff, and Arnie live in a small town in Ontario, and the year is 1983.
Zach and his friends were only hanging out at the barn, smoking. They didn't mean for anything to happen. But an accident caused the barn to go up in flames, and they can't let anybody know. For one, Jeff's parents would kill him. They weren't supposed to be there. So they left, and they prayed that it wouldn't spread.
But a truth that they never expected, an outcome that they dreaded, came to light. The old man who owned the property was dead. The flames had spread to his house and they found a burnt up shell in the ashes. They are horrified and terrified of the truth: was it them who caused his death?
It's the only thing that's happened in ages in this town. Not only is the fire big news, but that the old man was discovered dead? Soon the local police's eyes turned to one possibility that nobody considered, and tossing around a word that nobody wants to hear. Murder.
When the suspicion goes to Jeff's brother, Zach, Jeff, and Arnie know that they have to do anything and everything to discover the truth and prove Marty's innocence. WAS it murder or did they cause it? If it was murder, who killed him?
One of the things that I loved most about this book was the tone and the atmosphere. First of all, Kevin sets up the PERFECT setting for a mystery. A small town, boredom and laziness, hidden secrets. And the tone of it was just wonderful! His tone was subtle but could be direct at times and was filled with intrigue. Y'all know how much I love books with lots of intrigue. It had an air to it that was almost Because of Winn-Dixie like, with the changing relationships and small-town setting. I realize that I use the term small-town too much in this review, but that's because that was one of the great things that stood out to me!
Zach's friend group was diverse. He was the quieter, solid one. Jeff seemed to be the impulsive leader almost. Arnie just tagged along and agreed with them, and they bantered with him sometimes. I liked him :)
Kevin has a gift with dialogue. It's true! He knew exactly what different characters would say if they were real. I mean, some of the people I know who have said similar things have personalities almost exactly like what he painted his characters as! They were realistic and empathetic and utterly perfect. They grew throughout the book and their relationships interlocked realistically.
There was one scene in the book, when Zach, Jeff, and Arnie see the burnt property for the first time. Zach is devastated and feels guilty, Jeff is determined that they shouldn't tell anybody out of fear, and Arnie was somewhere in the middle. Their reactions were (for lack of a better term that I haven't used as much) perfect. I just thought that that's exactly what kids now would react like. Kevin really put himself in their shoes and explored a variety of different mindsets.
A major theme of this book was the lines you would cross for friendship. Zach, Jeff, and Arnie have to decide how far that they would go to preserve their friendship and what to do when they could be holding the answer to everything in their hands. I loved how their relationships grew and shrank, strengthened and weakened, perfectly with the chronological plot. It was like just when you thought they would break, something would happen to make their friendships strong again.
The supporting characters in this novel made it shine. I really liked hearing about Sherry and Ms. Halverton because they added individual flavors to the book. It really wouldn't have been as good without them.
The writing in this book was so mature and polished that I wished that it could have gone on forever. Some phrases and descriptions in this book were the type that I reread and said out loud and highlighted because I wished that I could savor them. They felt so good to say (and read!)
But my favorite part of the book was its atmosphere. It was lazy and warm at first and it was that kind of lazy that makes you think of summer, where you just want to lie around and do nothing, exactly what the kids were doing. Then it got political with the town and intense and mysterious. It was definitely a character-driven novel, but it was the atmosphere that hooked me.
I really loved Kevin's voice and I will be reading more of him in the future. Thanks to Kevin for letting me review this!
Recommended for anybody who loves: Because of Winn-Dixie; Gone With the Wind (atmosphere); To Kill a Mockingbird; mystery novels; etc,.