Controlled Burn

by Erin Soderberg Downing

Conditional Recommendation: After a fire evicts her family from their home and puts her younger sister in the hospital, 12-year-old Maia must learn to face her fears while staying with her grandparents in Minnesota.

Age: Middle Grade
Series: Stand Alone
Pages: 237
Published: 2022
Genre: Fiction

This is a good character-driven story about confronting scary things, like fears and memories, in order to heal, grow, and move forward. To be frank, the book isn’t as exciting as the cover makes it out to be. Maia’s challenges are mostly internal and the climactic moments of the story are internal revelations and bravery—doing what is good and right despite fear. This is not an action packed story, but a realistically paced summer spent with grandparents while Maia sorts through the awful thing that happened to her family, her worries about her sister’s recovery, and the guilt over her certainty that she’s the one to blame for all of it. I recommend this book because her journey is a good one and this book is full of quiet yet determined hope.

Summary from the Publisher
How do you recover after destroying everything you love? Twelve-year-old Maia’s parents say she’s lucky she noticed something as early as she did. Lucky to have smelled the smoke, lucky to have pulled her sister, Amelia, out of their burning house. But is it really “lucky” when Maia knows it was her candle, left unattended, that started the fire in the first place?

When she’s sent to spend the summer with her grandparents in northern Minnesota while her sister recovers in the hospital, Maia discovers that her anxieties and demons are intent on following her wherever she goes…unless she can figure out how to overcome them. But what if she can’t? What if she’s too scared to accompany Grandpa Howard on his daily motorcycle rides out to the middle of the woods, where he spends all day keeping watch for forest fires? Or even to help her chatty nine-year-old neighbor get all of his Bear Scout badges?

But Maia will soon learn that nature is a powerful teacher, and sometimes our greatest strengths show themselves when we have to be there for someone else. As Maia begins to figure out how to face her guilt, she’ll discover there’s a fine line between fear and adventure. And when danger strikes again, Maia must summon all her bravery and overcome her self-doubt if she wants to save those she loves most.

Enduring Themes
Facing Fears – Unfortunately, we all have them but Maia has quite a few that disrupt her daily life and prevent her from doing things. Anxiety and fear are normal, but not when they disrupt our days, haunt our nights, and pop into our heads to the point that they are no longer helpful but detrimental. The hard truth is, in order to not let our fear and anxiety put us in a prison, we must face them. Maia learns to do this through her own resolve, the encouragement of her new neighbor friend, and the wise words of her grandparents.

Family – Yes! It is so wonderful to find a book that doesn’t have a ridiculously dysfunctional and destructive family! The family element of this book is positive and encouraging. Maia loves her younger sister and considers her a friend and she loves her parents as well. While she’s away they call and talk every night. Her grandparents are strangers at first, but they show up for Maia in kind and moving ways, and Maia comes to love and respect them. Her time with them brings them all closer together—it’s so heartwarming!

Friendship – Maia easily becomes friends with her grandparents’ neighbor boy, Griff, even though he’s younger than her. They team up to complete the tasks to earn his Bear Scout badges, and they support each other in overcoming their fears of swimming by taking a summer swim class together. Simply having Griff as a friend emboldens and motivates Maia to face her fears more than she would have if she were alone.

Goodness and Truth
Hope – Bad things happen in life because of the consequences of sin and death on us and our world. We have to deal with destruction, with suffering, and with the results of our own inadequacies. It can be very hard, especially for kids. I love the hope displayed in this book, and the bravery. Fear and bad events aren’t the only things that happen in life, and we don’t have to face them alone. Maia gains new, rich relationships and grows into a better person because of the worst thing that happened to her. For her, hope and new life springs out of the ashes.

Selflessness – Through the grandpa, the book offers up the quality of selflessness as something both valuable and helpful—thinking of what others need from you and choosing to do things for the interests of others not just your own interests. Here’s how the grandpa explains it: “Sometimes, the best thing you can do is spend some time figuring out what it is that other people need and want. Because that isn’t always exactly the same as what you need or want. And then you gotta decide, at this moment in time, which of those things matters more?” (pg. 137). This isn’t a usual character trait exemplified in fiction these days so it’s refreshing to find it here.

Recommendation Note
This book may not be suitable for all readers because of the could-be scary house fire scene and forest fire scene. They are mild in my opinion, but Maia deals with nightmares and some PTSD symptoms afterward and they aren’t glossed over.

Give this heartwarming and uplifting family book a go! Happy reading!

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Where to Find this Book: Amazon* or your local library!

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