New Book Review: The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

Hey everyone, it’s Sarah!

I got this as an ARC through NetGalley.

Okay, so Becky is better known for picking Printz contenders. Me, not so much. I have a love/hate relationship with Printz books, in that I either really hate them or really love them. I have also come to terms with the fact that the winners are going to be books I hate…cough…Bone Gap…cough. Even though I am in this precarious place with Printz, I would like to announce…HERE YE, HERE YE, I BELIEVE THAT THE ARSONIST HAS A GOOD SHOT AT A PRINTZ MEDAL…thank you. I enjoyed this book, so that is a strike against it, but it read like a Bone Gap and other medal books.



This novel takes on three perspectives and the quest to untangle the truth and lies surrounding an important historical figure.

Molly is writing letters to her comatose friend, Pepper, describing her past and their journey. Her father, The Arsonist,  is on death row for killing several people in the fires he set. After he was apprehended, Molly and her mother traveled to Nice, France, where it is believed that her mother killed herself. Molly doesn’t believe this story, she knows that her mother is alive somewhere in hiding. Molly uncovers a clue, which sets her on a path to find her mother. The clues are tied closely to a famous diary by Ava Dreyman, who represented those repressed in the Cold War in East Germany.

Ava Dreyman (is not a real historical figure outside of this book, for those who may get confused), her family worked against the Stasi, or the government in the German Democratic Republic. When the family is in danger of being imprisoned, they work to flee the country with long-time family friends. Ava is constantly on the run and has a difficult time knowing who to trust and how to stay safe.

Pepper was born in Kuwait. His mother died just after giving birth to him. He and his father immigrated to Monterrey, California because an American soldier explained how great the city was. Pepper has a seizure disorder and an assistance animal, a pug, Bertrand. He isn’t one of the popular kids and has very few friends. He is in jeopardy of failing to graduate, but is given the chance if he completes several essays. Pepper and Molly’s paths cross in her quest to find her mother and the reader views his view of the journey through his graduation essays.



I thought that the writing was well-developed. I found myself immersed in the story. Oakes takes on a portion of history that is not typically explored through YA novels. I found the images conveyed through this novel to be gritty, real, and beautiful.



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