My Life on Fire

My Life on Fire
Cath Howe
Nosy Crow

Ren, her mum, dad and younger brother Petie arrive home after spending an evening with friends and discover their house ablaze. The fire-brigade tell them it can’t be saved; “we’re so lucky” say her parents, “we’re all OK. That’s all that matters.” But what about all those toys, books, photographs and other things that make a house a home; they’ve all gone up in flames.

Having spent the first night in a B&B, the family moves in with Gran but she only has one spare room. This the children use but their parents occupy a caravan in the driveway. Nothing feels right: Mum and Dad are busy trying to keep their business going while also making an insurance claim and Gran (an ex headteacher) has lots of rules she expects the children to keep.
All of this makes Ren feel very stressed, even more so when she overhears snippets of conversations between her parents. Then Petie starts getting upset at night over the fact that Mr Softie is missing and wanting big sister to tell him stories about his beloved teddy. 

This adds to the pressure on Ren and realising she really doesn’t have a life any longer, sad and angry, she starts stealing again, mostly small items from people at school.

Enter Caspar, the second of the book’s narrators. He is in Ren’s class and is enthusiastically involved in the class project ‘My Life in a Box’ that is underway when Ren returns to school. He also lives not far from Ren’s gran and so when she and Caspar’s dad decide to share getting the children to and from school, they find themselves spending much more time together. Almost inevitably he discovers what his friend is up to and is shocked that she can be thieving. He is determined to help Ren return all the items she has taken and stashed away. What will be the outcome of his endeavours?

The way Cath Howe tells the story from two viewpoints is superbly done; one cannot help but feel for both characters, each of whom feels things deeply. Engrossing and thought-provoking, with themes of sharing problems, friendship, taking responsibility for one’s actions and the importance of family, this is another powerful piece of writing from an author who gets better and better.

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