Monday, September 13, 2021

Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Paradise on FireParadise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exciting and immediately absorbing; I loved it!

Six inner-city teens from the East Coast are flown to California to participate in a summer Wilderness Adventure. The main character, Addy, has never been out of the Bronx, and much like the other city kids, is anxious about the whole trip. Addy is an orphan; her parents died years earlier when she was a little girl, and her grandmother, Bibi, came from Nigeria to take care of her. Addy still has nightmares of losing her mother and father, of the fire, of needing to know how to escape. Bibi had signed her up for this summer Wilderness Adventure; Addy just wanted to stay home.

Arriving at the Wilderness camp, Addy and the others quickly fall into the routine for the summer program. From the very beginning, Addy realizes that the wilderness, the forest, the outdoors calls to her very soul, and Leo, the camp owner, instinctively sees her as a kindred spirit. Along with Ryder, Leo’s dog, the three bond as they begin to systematically explore and map their wild surroundings and record the environmental changes they find - changes to land and animals resulting from never-ending climate change. Leo teaches Addy about maps, topography, and other wilderness skills, and they talk about her returning to continue her studies and work there in the summers to come.

But with the end of summer, the Wilderness Adventure comes to a close, and the teens and their two college-age camp counselors head out for one final challenge, a 3-day hike with overnight tent camping. They’ve prepared well for this all summer long; however, nothing could prepare them for what they encounter on their first night out.

I loved this book! With interesting young leading characters, all with their own issues and fears, the story evolves, and the tension steadily increases until you find yourself smack in the middle of some honest-to-goodness pulse-pounding action. I almost thought I was breathing the fresh air and, later, choking on ash and embers. The characters were so very engaging that I was much affected as things unfolded. The story easily and totally absorbed me from start to finish.

In addition to the exciting story, the very serious themes of climate change, ecological degradation, and the need for environmental protection come through the action. These concepts with consequences are presented simply and straightforwardly so the youngest readers will understand, and older ones will not feel it's too preachy.

Paradise on Fire is an unforgettable adventure story that is perfect for middle grades, high school, and readers who enjoyed Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from NetGalley.

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