Book Club Pick: April 2015
Title: The Boy in the Burning House
Author: Tim Wynne-Jones
Series: Stand alone novel
Publisher: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre Ltd
First Published: 2000
Two years after his father mysteriously disappeared, Jim Hawkins is coping – barely. Underneath he’s frozen in uncertainty and grief. Then Jim meets Ruth Rose, the stepdaughter of the town pastor, Father Fisher. Ruth Rose shocks Jim out of his stupor when she tells him Father Fisher is a murderer. Then she shocks him again. “Don’t you want to know who he murdered?” she asks. In spite of his uneasiness, Jim begins to burn with a desire for the truth. But stirring up the embers of the past can be a dangerous business . . .
14-year-old Jim Hawkins is growing up in rural Ontario, Canada dealing with the loss of his father Hub, following his sudden disappearance two years earlier. Many in the community suspect suicide but his body has never been found.
Jim’s world is further thrown into turmoil when he meets 16-year-old Ruth Rose, the stepdaughter of Father Fisher, the local pastor. Ruth Rose tells Jim that her stepfather is a murderer and is involved in his father’s disappearance.
The problem is in the community’s eyes Father Fisher is the well respected pastor and Ruth Rose is a highly troubled medicated teen. But Jim is yearning for answers regarding his father’s disappearance.
As Jim digs into his father’s past he learns of an incident nearly 30 years ago where a friend of his father died in a burning house. But how is this connected to his father’s disappearance and what is Father Fisher’s involvement?
The novel, which is written in third person has relatively short chapters, which makes it an easy read and provides it with a quick pace.
The Boy in the Burning House, which won the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, is not a complex murder mystery and felt more like a psychological thriller to me as the mystery aspect is quite predictable.
Wynne-Jones plays homage to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel Treasure Island, by borrowing characters names such as Jim Hawkins and Billy Bones.
I would recommend this novel for junior secondary school (high school) students.
Source: I borrowed this book from my public library.