It’s been a long time since I was in grade school but that didn’t stop me from reading Wildfire, which is intended for grades 6-8. Whew! This book begins with a bang and doesn’t stop until the last page. Action-packed doesn’t cover it. Wildfire, by Rodman Philbrick, is fraught from the start.
Sam and Delphy are both attending different summer camps in Maine when wildfires threaten. Somehow they are left behind as their fellow campers and counselors frantically escape on buses. Luckily they find each other and are able to band together to try to survive.
Sam’s a good kid who is saddled with worry for his mother who is in rehab. Sadly, his dad was killed in Afghanistan. He thinks of them as he tries to escape the fire – especially his dad and the times they spent together, the lessons he learned.
Delphy’s a little older than Sam, more of a moody teen. But as they keep running, trying to get to a main road to get help, she comes into her own power. They’re equals – two kids on their own trying to escape a raging wildfire – but there’s also a big sister / little brother dynamic and it’s sweet at times.
And then there’s the Jeep. As they make their way through the woods Sam commandeers a Jeep. Sam’s dad owned a Jeep so there’s a strong connection; as the story moves forward the connection grows deeper. The Jeep is a tool, a symbol, a bridge to the past and the future.
Sam and Delphy are smart kids: they have the ability to talk themselves down, they’re resilient, and they support each other. Sam is so likeable, with just the right mix of insecurity and resolve.
Wildfires are becoming more common in the US, so this is a sobering book. Philbrick is skilled at plotting and keeping the reader interested, and he’s also good at mixing in facts about climate change without being preachy. He helpfully includes survival tips at the end but really, the whole book gives you information to tuck away, just in case.
Reading kids books as an adult may seem strange but I think there’s room on a reader’s shelf for anything that catches their eye. Diversify your reading list with different genres, authors from countries other than your own, and books for different age groups. It’s all good!