By Monique Polak
Orca Book Publishers
ISBN No. 978-1-4598-0228-5
Franklin, the pre-teen “Pyro” of this book’s title likes fire. Recalling the “ah-ha” moment when his father set fire to some balled-up newspapers in the family fireplace, he’d “never seen anything more beautiful” than that first “giant blue-and-orange flame.”
Of course, the fires in “Pyro” have as much to do with the -mania of the title as they do with the destructive dynamics of a broken family. Franklin’s parents are separated and his father and he are on opposite sides of arson: Franklin commits it, while his mayor father reassures the public that they’re doing everything to catch him.
“Fire’s a powerful thing,” Franklin’s father tells him. “It creates, but it destroys too.”
But mostly fire creates some indelible images – whether they’re in book, film or news form. “Fahrenheit 451”, “Wild at Heart”, “The Day of the Locust”, “The Towering Inferno”, TV’s “Rescue Me”, the fireballs of 9-11; there’s fewer images more filmic or powerful than fire. In most cases and genres the arsonist is beyond redemption. Most works of art don’t even try to explain the firestarter’s motivations.
“Pyro” is frank enough with Franklin to make him an unlikeable and dangerous character; a daring move when dealing with one of the few remaining untamable manias of our over-analyzed and over-medicated times. And, in turn, Franklin makes “Pyro” a conversation piece of a book. Certainly, the story’s moral lesson is obvious, and its conclusion tidy (we are talking about young readers, after all), but the overall effect is something that can be appreciated by all age groups (especially adults looking for an unusual and challenging read).