On Fire

Part comedy, part mystery, part allegory, On Fire is narrated alternately by two characters: Matti Iverly, a fourteen-year-old girl with Tourette Syndrome. In Matti?s case, her tics are primarily vocal. As she confides early in the book, ?At school they called me Tourette?s Girl, like I came out of a phone booth wearing a costume and made funny noises for people?s entertainment. But I was a serious person, waiting for a serious purpose.? When a young man with amnesia wonders out of the heart of wildfire country, Matti finds that purpose and fulfills it with courage, humour and dignity. Within the scope of the story, it?s clear that Matti rules despite the isolation of her village, and the ominous care-taking to which she commits herself in trying to right the life of Dan, the strange seventeen-year-old teen with amnesia who mysteriously appears out of the smoke and fire and then disappears again.

When Dan first takes up the narration, he? hiding out in a ghost town across the lake from Matti? village. It? clear he? far more troubled than she realized. He? haunted by ghosts and demons and vague memories of something that happened to him in the mountains. As Dan appears almost mythically out of a forest fire area and collapses at Matti? feet, he reverses the journey countless adolescent males make every year into the wildfire we call mental illness. Dan is lucky. He finds Matti Iverly. Because of her stubborn persistence, he connects with an odd assortment of people who as much as any help he gets from doctors, assist him in reassembling his life. They become his community of concern, his family.

Through a series of synchronous events, Matti finds Dan again in a mental hospital. She becomes very much a part of his path back to reality, at least his version of it. As a result we see her grow into a person who believes in her own strength, and Dan morph into a young man who feels he has a future.


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My dad keeps a fan on top of the filing cabinet in the jail. Marsh turned it on when we got back and aimed it at the on-fire guy who was lying in the exact same position I? left him in. Then Marsh sat down on the side of the bed. ?ello,?he said. Not to me, of course. ?lying,?the on-fire guy said. His face was bright red. It made his eyes look even bluer when he opened them. ?id you see me?? ?ow I got here,?the guy said. ?avens. They saved my life.? The guy shifted his eyes over to me and shielded them with one hand like he was looking into the light. ?re you an angel??he asked. ?f course not,?I told him. My face suddenly felt very hot. I went and stood right in front of the fan. The guy rolled his head over on the pillow until he was looking at Marsh again. ?his isn? heaven then?? Marsh opened the only window in the jail and cranked the speed of the fan up as high as it would go. Then he motioned me to follow him outside. ?here did you find him??he asked me. He kept his voice quiet and low. ? was on the Blackstone trail head,?I said, ?oing my Tai Chi when I saw him coming down.? ?f course,?I said. ? watched him for quite a while.? ?ook after him,?I said. ?e asked for my help and I took a vow I? give it to him.?Marsh smiled in this sad way he has that ties his face directly up to his heart. ?ou were a medic in the war, weren? you??I wasn? supposed to ask him about those days, but I knew that much for sure. He kept a bunch of medals in the glove compartment of his truck. Marsh took off his sunglasses and perched them up on top of his head. Then he rubbed the marks the glasses left on his nose a few times. After that he went back inside the jail and watched the guy sleep for a while. Eventually he rolled the on-fire guy over. There were rows of round, red marks on the backs of his legs. Some of them had scabbed up. Some were oozing clear liquid. Weeping, I think you say. ?re those burns??I asked. ?es,?Marsh said. ?ut not from a wildfire. He? banged up some, but he? not burned like that.?He slid his glasses back onto his nose. ?nd I? pretty sure it isn? because he flew down here.?

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176 Pages
8.50in * 5.50in * .60in


March 15, 2013


Thistledown Press



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YA Fiction



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