Recently, I was blown away by Tony Abbot’s Firegirl. It’d been on my reading list for a while now, ever since it won the Golden Kite. Now I understand why it received the award!
This book is an incredible example of voice guiding you through the story. Strangely, the title character is not the first person narrator (Tom), nor even the main character of the book. And yet the book revolves around Firegirl, a girl that has been horribly disfigured in a fire, and explores the way that a single person or single moment in time can define and change us for years to come.
More stunning than the distinctive and strong voice of Tom, is the way that Tony Abbott manages to show Firegirl in a light that always makes us feel empathy, rather than pity. And despite the sensitive subject matter, there is not a moment of cheesiness in this book. How does Abbott manage to do this?
My best guess is that Abbott lets us see Firegirl through the eyes of a teenage boy who is trying hard to find his place in the world. Tom feels both revulsion and sympathy for this girl, without judging either emotion. His flaw is not callousness, but merely that this is the first time he’s ever imagined what it might be like to be someone else. Or what other peoples lives might be like. Tom is struggling with empathy, right in front of our eyes. It is this struggle that makes Firegirl so unique. And also what makes this story such a compelling read.