Title: The Boy in the Burning House
Author: Tim Wynne-Jones
Publication Year: 2000
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Borrowed from my classroom
From the cover:
Ever since his father’s mysterious disappearance, Jim Hawkins has just been hanging on. Trying not to worry about the fact that he and his mother may lose the family farm. Trying not to hope against hope that his dad will one day show up at the door. Trying to put up a wall between himself and the rest of the world, especially the community where his family has lived for generations.
Then Ruth Rose crashes into his life. A sixteen-year-old misfit whose manic moods have to be managed by drugs, she has her own trouble – namely her stepfather.
He’s a murderer. Or so Ruth Rose claims.
“Don’t you want to hear who he murdered?” she asks.
Every instinct tells Jim to walk away, to get back to the slow process of dealing with his own grief. Yet something about her fierce conviction will not let him rest. Ruth Rose lights a fire inside Jim – some kind of burning need to uncover the truth, no matter how painful that truth may be.
This is one of the books that I had been planning to read for the read-a-thon last weekend, and started reading near the end, but didn’t finish until a couple days later. I had picked it largely because it was YA, fairly short, and had found it in my classroom bookshelf: otherwise, I likely wouldn’t have heard of it.
There were things about The Boy in the Burning House that I really enjoyed, and things that I didn’t enjoy so much. Overall, it was a pretty good read: the storyline was interesting and unique, particularly captivating as the narrator is a teenage boy trying to move on and live his life after the mysterious disappearance of his father. Sadly, the mystery aspect was the one part that I really didn’t like too much: it was fairly predictable, at least as an adult reader, and didn’t really seem all that interesting from the point of view of a teenager, I would think. But hey, that’s just my opinion: there are also likely many teenagers who might disagree with me.
In general, there were more positives than negatives to this novel. Once you got past the predictability thing and just went with it to find out what happened and stopped trying to guess, The Boy in the Burning House was actually quite entertaining. Jim was a very sympathetic narrator, and the characters of his mother (Iris) and the girl who finds him (Ruth Rose) are intriguing and, particularly in the latter case, complex. I really loved the added layer of Ruth Rose’s “mental illness”: is she telling the truth, or is she crazy like her stepfather says? It was really hard to tell at some points, and this really helped build up the tension.
I also liked the pacing of this book: it was pretty quick, with short chapters, but still gave enough detail to avoid being overly simplistic. The ending came about fast, but in a good way: there wasn’t the long, drawn-out climax and conclusion that so many books I’ve read lately seem to have.
The Boy in the Burning House is an interesting read, though I wouldn’t say that it’s anything spectacular that you absolutely must read. If you’re interested in murder mysteries and small-town scandals, though, this just might be the book for you.
- 17/13+ for the Canadian Book Challenge 4