VOYA Review of The Firebug of Balrog County

From VOYA Magazine:

5Q 4P S

Oppegaard, David. The Firebug of Balrog County. Flux/Llewellyn, 2015. 312p. $11.99. 978-0-7387-4543-5.

Anybody who has worked for teens for any length of time has experienced the heartache of coming across young people that just seem lost or broken, like the protagonist of this novel. Mack Druneswald is about to graduate high school, but ever since his mom died from cancer, he has stopped caring about pretty much everything—school, his future, dating, and all the other things important to his peers. He has one friend, another outcast, and a dark secret—he deals with his pain by starting fires. He may hide behind a wall of wise-ass remarks and sarcasm, but inside there is a brokenness that even his increasingly bigger acts of arson cannot heal. Then he meets a beautiful, goth college student who embraces his darkness. Will she help Mack overcome his pain, or will their relationship lead him to destruction?

Oppegaard’s book is beautifully written and full of honest characters, but probably its finest virtue is giving an authentic and powerful voice to a young man in pain. Mack’s cleverness and snark have bite to them, and he comes across as a real person who needs a hug. The risks he takes in setting fires are a cry for help, but they may very well lead to tragic consequences. Despite all this heaviness and having his family torn apart by his mother’s death, Mack’s story is still overflowing with humor, romance, and, eventually, even hope. This book is a winner.—Sean Rapacki.

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