Reviews /

My Life on Fire

Authored by Cath Howe
Published by Nosy Crow Ltd

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My Life on Fire is an immediately engaging novel. The story is told by two narrators, Ren and Caspar. Ren and her family are out when their home catches fire. They return to find the fire has taken hold. ‘We watched the fire devour our house like a monster…Houses don’t burn down. They burn up and up into the sky with large flames that eat everything until there is nothing left.’  This is the start of an unsettling and unhappy time for Ren. Her parents are immediately thankful that the family are safe, but after spending the first nights in emergency B&B accommodation, they move to stay with their stern Grandma in her ordered and restrictive house.

Caspar, our second narrator is an inquisitive and kind boy in Ren’s class. Caspar’s older brother, Matty has recently moved away to university leaving Caspar feeling lonely. But Caspar is excited by a new class art project. Working with an artist, ‘My Life in a Box’ is a project in which the children will create boxes which represent their life and all that is important to them. When Ren returns to school, it is clear that this project will be problematic for her. Their teacher, Miss Chatto is well meaning but can’t understand the turmoil Ren is going through, and this adds to her feelings of alienation.

Soon after, things start to go missing in the children’s class. Cath Howe describes Ren’s thought processes and justifications as she takes items that don’t belong to her. These scenes are well-handled, and the reader empathises with Ren. Her stealing escalates, and she feels a growing need to take items that aren’t hers. She becomes more confident and sees stealing as something she is good at. Caspar is deeply upset and troubled by these events. When he finds out it is Ren who is the thief, the conversations that occur between the two children are powerful. Caspar is mature and his concern for his friend is touching. Together they seek to put things right.

This story deals with difficult and challenging events, but they are handled with sensitivity and warmth by the author. This is the impact of telling the story through the two narrative voices. The children are immensely likeable, but they are also flawed. My Life on Fire deals with universal themes: loss, friendship, kindness. It is a well-paced and highly enjoyable read. But it is also a novel which invites conversation and debate. As a reader, I found the ending and solutions slightly problematic because they are rather simplistic, but I would enjoy reading this aloud to an upper Key Stage 2 class and discussing it with readers. I highly recommend this book to teachers, and I think it is a worthy addition for school and classroom libraries.

Selected for the Empathy Lab 2024 Collection