The Boy in the Burning House
Reviewed: January 25, 2002
By: Tim Wynne-Jones
Publisher: Groundwood Books
231 pages, $12.95
is a powerful thing. For Jim Hawkins, losing his father was so
traumatic that he almost killed himself.
is also a powerful thing. Indirectly, it led to Hub's death, though
he had some help. The cause of that guilt is not something that
Jim has ever wished to pursue. It was bad enough to have watched
his father being eaten up and diminished over a period of months
to the point where he simply vanished, no body ever being found.
Considered as a wasting mental breakdown it could barely be borne,
and Jim really doesn't want to consider it any other way.
Rose has other ideas. They are suspicious ideas, because 16 year
old Ruth is a little crazy if she forgets her medication, and
she has spent time in a mental institution. But Rose is persistent
and compelling, and for Jim there is something satisfying about
her conviction that his father didn't actually chose to vanish,
to desert his wife and son - that he was murdered.
catch is that she insists the deed was done by her stepfather,
the Reverend Father (he had his name legally changed from Eldon)
Fisher of the Church of the Blessed Transfiguration.
had been a handful when he was a kid, back when he and Hub had
played pranks on people, but that had changed after another friend
had died in a fire during his senior year in high school, and
his personal transfiguration had made him a new man, one who now
inspires his flock and drives about doing good deeds in a van
most call the Godmobile.
an awkward time to begin to be suspicious, to sift through back
issues of the local paper, to try to figure out what is meant
by the mysterious "Tabor" that keeps turning up in Father's
private prayers. It gets even more awkward when Ruth Rose tapes
those prayers with their strange garbled, childlike tones and
slips the cassette into the church's sound system during a service.
Still more awkward when it becomes clear that Father controls
the church benevolent fund which is going to loan Jim's mom enough
money to get the farm out of debt.
Boy in the Burning House starts off slowly enough, and the revelations
pile up in a leisurely fashion, but the last half of the novel
is pedal to the metal action, beginning with Ruth Rose running
away and coming to the Hawkins house to hide. Everything
comes together very quickly and intensely at the end, answering
all the questions.
It seems typical of Wynne-Jones young adult books that even the people
you would have to call the bad guys have a little something that
makes you feel for them. In the case of Father Fisher, he seems
to be in the grip of a powerful religious driven delusion about
life and his role in it. The setting of the novel is pure Perth
County, where the author lives, but he is quick to note that none
of the clergy around there are anything like this man. Thank God