School Library Journal Review

The Firebug of Balrog County

Reviewed on 07/01/2015
Gr 9 Up—Mack likes to start fires: the firebug is always in his ear encouraging him to find something else to burn. He feels in control when he commits arson, and late at night in his small prairie town, he can always find something to burn. Mack’s family is in pieces since his mother’s death, and each member is dealing with his or her grief alone. Mack himself pulls at the threads of the memories of his mother but never really deals with her death. Instead, he goes through the motions of a typical high school senior—working at the local hardware store, going to keg parties—but doesn’t connect with anyone. It’s just him and the whispering firebug, until he meets Katrina, who is so wonderfully different from everyone else. Like Mack, she is somewhat angsty and unconventional, and the two become friends and then lovers. Katrina seems to understand Mack, and she wholeheartedly supports the firebug within him. Things climax when Mack ignites the giant woodpile of an embittered veteran. The main character is a wholly likable, though tortured malefactor, and readers will root for the success and escape of the firebug as much as they hope for Mack’s family life to improve. References to sex and teenage drinking make this title appropriate for older readers, though they aren’t gratuitous. VERDICT An offbeat bildungsroman reminiscent of Libba Bray’s Going Bovine (Delacorte, 2009).—Patricia Feriano, Montgomery County Public Schools, MD

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