By Author / Illustrator
Family & Home
Nosy Crow Ltd
Paperback / softback
A tense, page-turning story that sensitively deals with themes of family upheaval and kleptomania, by the bestselling author of Ella on the Outside.
Ren's family lose their home in a fire. They're living with her grandmother now and things are a bit tense. Ren lost her collection of things, her clothes; her brother lost his little bear and is inconsolable. So Ren starts replacing things with other people's possessions. They've got loads of stuff, after all. But she gets caught and has to strike a terrifying deal to avoid detection...
When disaster strikes and Ren's family lose their home in a fire, they feel lucky to be alive. But soon, having lost everything and having to live a very different life at her grandmother's, Ren starts to feel resentful that others have lovely things whilst she and her family have…nothing. Having no one to turn to, Ren starts to collect new things - things which don't belong to her. Brimming with positivity and questions, Casper really can't believe that there is a thief in his class and is sure it must be a mistake. However, when he learns the truth, will he be able to help put things right?
Cath Howe is a superb author who manages to combine excellent writing, gripping plots and engaging characters with challenging storylines which make the reader think. My Life on Fire is told through the voices of Ren and Casper. From the outset, Cath develops empathy for Ren and her family. The pain she feels for the loss of her special possessions as well as everyday items which are usually taken for granted is poignantly conveyed, as is the contrast between her lovely bedroom and the places she now finds herself in. She is constantly conflicted, knowing the family are lucky to be alive and together and yet… Against this, the reader watches, helpless, as Ren finds her own way of coping and things spiral out of control.
Cath's understanding and development of characters is second to none. Casper is one of those children all teachers instantly recognise. Good hearted, full of enthusiasm and boundless energy, they can sometimes be exhausting, but are the heartbeat of a happy class. He is bewildered by what he discovers - 'only a bad person would do something like this' - but is positive everything can be made right. His friendship and support are just what Ren needs, helping her to find herself again.
The story never seeks to excuse Ren for what she does, but it opens a door for discussions around the reasons why people might act in certain ways and how they might be supported with this. The impact of her actions on others is also considered. My Life on Fire is a powerful, sensitive novel with much to recommend it.
272 pages / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+