________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 14 . . . . March 7, 2008


Three Million Acres of Flame.

Valerie Sherrard.
Toronto, ON: Boardwalk/Dundurn, 2007.
195 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-727-3.

Subject Headings:
Fires-New Brunswick-Miramichi River Region-History-Juvenile fiction.
Disasters-New Brunswick-Miramichi River Region-History-Juvenile fiction.
Miramichi River Region (N.B.)-History-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Ruth Sands.

**** /4


She would always remember the date that everything changed for the worse. It was November 19, the day after she and Stewart had stood on the dock with so many others, waving goodbye to Captain Litchfield and his crew as the Orestes parted the water and began its journey back to Halifax.

Skye had been sitting near the fire and holding little Henry, who, after only a few weeks in their care, had almost entirely recovered both his appetite and spirit. He was a good baby, gurgling and cooing happily most of the time, in contrast to Ellie-Sue, who cried a great deal. Skye had just been thinking that it would be nice if Ellie-Sue’s temperament were a bit more like Henry’s, then feeling guilty for what seemed disloyalty to her sister, when Logan Haverill stepped through the door.

“Papa!” she cried, jumping to her feet and startling Henry who, taking her sudden movement as some sort of game, laughed in excitement. Logan started toward her but stopped suddenly, staring in bewilderment at the baby in her arms. This brought laughter from both Hannah and Mrs. Chapman. The ladies realized at once that his confusion was because he thought the child was Ellie-Sue, who was considerably smaller and had darker hair in comparison to Henry’s fine blond fuzz. Hannah’s smile faded, though, as she told her husband the sad news of Peter Fraser, and his wife’s reaction to the tragedy.

“Peter Fraser,” Logan said with a shake of his head. “A terrible loss to his family – and the community. Peter was a good Christian man. I never knew him to turn away anyone who went to him for help, and you couldn’t ask for a better neighbour.”

Skye Haverill, the main character of Valerie Sherrard’s Three Million Acres of Flame, is a young girl whose entire world seems to be falling apart. Her father has remarried after only a year of widowhood, and her new stepmother, Hannah, has also brought a son into the marriage. Skye is determined to dislike the new members of the family and is especially dismayed when she discovers that Hannah is expecting a baby. Skye is rather unfair to Hannah, but she is a child who is hurting and missing her mother. Nothing though has prepared Skye for the losses she and the rest of the townspeople will face when a wild forest fire sweeps through the town and destroys everything. Through Skye, the reader experiences the terror of the fire, the desperation of their flight and the struggle to survive and rebuild. The story is one of faith and hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

     With the story based on real events and steeped in fine details, the reader is treated to a very plausible picture of a great Canadian natural disaster that occurred on October 7, 1825. Once again, Sherrard has perfectly captured the voice of the child. Skye is a wonderful and naïve narrator who believes that nothing can be worse than having a new mother and brother. At the beginning of the story, she seems so young, but she is forced to grow up in the wake of the devastating fire that destroys the entire town and takes so many lives. Sherrard is so good at telling the story from the child’s point of view with all the immature emotions and thoughts that entails. As always, the details are painstaking and, therefore, bring the story to life. From taking charity from strangers to living in root cellars as the town rebuilds, every event in the novel is wonderfully crafted. The only time the novel falters is when the reader is given a broader view of how a particular event will affect later history. But, for the most part, Sherrard uses footnotes to add in historical details, and, therefore, the flow of the book is relatively uninterrupted. Three Million Acres of Flame is definite a good solid read.

Highly Recommended.

Ruth Sands is a freelance writer from Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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