Wildfire. Carrie Mac. Random House. January 2020. pb, 272 pp.; ISBN: 9780399556296.
Pete and Annie have been best friends for years. In that time their mothers have died and Annie’s beloved grandmother, Gigi, died of cancer. While Gigi was dying, choosing to starve herself to death rather than be put in a hospice or nursing home, Annie stopped going to school and is determined not to return. Pete wants her to go back as does her father but finally they accept Annie’s decision. Instead Pete and Annie set off on a ten-day backpack hiking trip through the Washington mountains, their goal a Fire Camp. The latter is very real as there are multiple wildfires spreading throughout Washington, some close enough to cast fear through these teens’ most optimistic plans.
During this trip, they both speak of past important events including the coming and going of Annie’s Mom as well as her mother’s death which might have been an accident. Now on this trip Pete has an accident in which his leg is severely gashed. They do the best they can to clean it and bind it up in a bandage but the outcome very quickly turns deadly as septicemia spreads beyond their ability to cope. Annie begins to realize she has more than just friendly feelings toward Pete but she never gets to act on that attraction.
There’s not much depth of characterization in this story but the adventurous nature of Peter and Annie’s hiking, camping and discussions makes up for it. They both begin to realize that dreams and plans are made not only to think and plan about but to actually act on. Although the end of the story is tearfully poignant, Annie realizes she is responsible to carry out her dream based on her love of mountain climbing and nature. Preet, who was really Pete’s girlfriend, is sort of a third wheel apparition who enters at the right moments to help Annie make sense out of the chaotic journey and help Annie cope with a funereal ceremony to honor Pete’s life. Only then doe Annie realize she could love Preet.
This story is timely given the dangerous wildfires raging in the Wester part of the United States. Far beyond that obvious tragedy, however, lies the deeper theme of resilience, love and determination in the midst of and after loss. Strength comes from deep within which is honored and celebrated in this coming of age story.
Nicely crafted, Carrie Mac!