________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 8. . . .October 26, 2012


Pyro. (Orca Currents series).

Monique Polak.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2012.
119 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0228-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0229-2 (hc.).

Grades 5-12 / Ages 10-17.

Review by Jeannine Stickle.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I push open the back door and take a deep gulp of summer air. That helps. It's as if I couldn't breathe inside. I've never heard Mom and Dad fight like that. Usually they let things smolder. Maybe this is what happens if the smoldering goes on too long.

The crickets are singing. I could go over to Jeff's, but then I'd have to tell him what's going on.

No, I'll keep walking till my head clears. I'll try to relax.

Who am I kidding? There's only one thing that helps me relax—and it isn't a walk.

There are hardly any lights on inside the houses I pass. Montreal West isn't exactly full of night owls. So many of the people who live here are old. I'm getting close to Elizabeth Ballantyne, my old elementary school. I spot a metal trash can at the edge of the schoolyard. Perfect.

The wind picks up, carrying with it some brochures someone dropped. I reach out and catch them. It's as if the wind wants in on my plan. Wind and fire make a powerful pair.

I reach into the front pocket of my jeans for matches.


A pyromaniac is on the loose in Montreal West, and Franklin's dad is determined to catch him to ensure the safety of the town and his re-election as mayor of Montreal West in this high-interest, low reading level novel. But Franklin's dad is too preoccupied with his job to notice his wife's affair, which has been obvious to Franklin for some time now, or Franklin's own obsession with starting fires as a way to relieve stress. When Franklin's mom leaves the family to be with her boyfriend, Franklin’s dad becomes more distant, and Franklin starts setting fires more frequently and becomes less cautious. Though Franklin is careful to ensure that his fires never cause harm to anyone, a local volunteer firefighter, Terry, accuses him of being the pyromaniac who is setting fires to peoples' houses around the town. Soon after Franklin's father begins to suspect that Terry is correct, Franklin and Tracy, his friend and prospective girlfriend, catch Terry in the act of setting fire to Franklin's mom's boyfriend's apartment in an effort to frame Franklin and make himself look heroic by saving the victims and thus improving his chances of being hired by the Montreal Fire Department.

     Though the mystery of the pyromaniac is solved at the end of the novel, there are a great many plot points left open at the end, some of which are resolved in the final chapter and some of which are not. Though this ensures that most of the novel focuses on the action of the story and remains fast-paced, the conclusion feels too abrupt. In the three page chapter, Franklin reveals that he has been seeing a psychologist to get help with his own pyromania and that Terry is in jail for his crimes. However, though Franklin mentions Tracy, his mother, and his mother's boyfriend in passing, no details are given about the state of his relationships with these characters. Furthermore, no details are given about how Franklin and Tracy managed to convince the authorities that Terry was the pyromaniac and not them, though the three of them were found at the scene of the crime and must have looked equally suspicious. Despite this abrupt ending, however, Pyro is an enjoyable read. Besides the flat and outright villainous Terry, the characters are likeable, easy to relate to, and well-drawn, especially the good-hearted Franklin and strong-willed Tracy. The plot is fast-paced and compelling and will hook both male and female readers. Pyro is a recommended purchase for public and school libraries with a collection of high-interest low reading level books.


Jeannine Stickle received her MLIS from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, and is a librarian in Western Oregon.

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

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