Summary: Since his father’s disappearance, Jim Hawkins has been trying to deal with his grief while stepping up to help his mother with the farm. Some think Jim’s dad killed himself, while Jim is trying to hold on to the hope that he’s alive and will return. When Ruth Rose hijacks his attention with a theory about the local minister, Father Fisher, being involved in what she thinks is Jim’s dad’s murder, Jim questions her sanity. Ruth Rose is convinced Father Fisher is a murder who is coming after her next, while Father Fisher informs everyone Ruth is a very troubled teen who has spent time in a mental institution. Jim is left to do his own detective work, looking into the suspicious death of a young man in a fire from some years back that he thinks is connected to his father and trying to figure out who is lying and who is telling the truth before anyone else is hurt.
Number of Pages: 231
Age Range: 15-17
Review: Once again, Tim Wynne-Jones takes a thriller-type, action-packed story and adds depth and dimension to it.
Jim Hawkins is having a hard time dealing with the increasingly likely possibility that his father is dead, so much so that he tries to kill himself more than once. Ruth Rose’s entrance into her life is abrupt and chaotic, but she turns out to be just the friend he needs to get him through. Not only does she help him figure out the truth, as terrible as it is, but Jim finally figures out her father has been lying about her all along, realising what a fast and loyal friend she actually is.
The mystery unfolds at a satisfying pace because Jim is an observant character who questions what other people are afraid to question. I love the contrast Wynne-Jones highlights through his story. Ministers are assumed to be truthful and worthy of trust. On the flip side, prejudices against those dealing with mental illness lead others to assume they are not truthful or trustworthy. Father Fisher uses these prejudices against Ruth Rose to keep people on his side, but eventually the façade crumbles.
Ruth Rose is definitely my favourite character because I loved her commitment and passion. She lights up the book with her intensity and is never afraid to speak her mind and be herself.
Mostly I just had fun reading The Boy in the Burning House because I enjoy good thrillers with the slightly overdrawn evil character. It makes for a page-turning read.
“For a spilt second, he was too stunned to react. Then the tears came. They surprised him as much as they surprised her. He thought he had cried them all months ago. But he had only been damming them up, it seemed, for now they flowed out of him and dripped from his face onto the hillside. He made no attempt to stop them of mop them up. He sank back down to the ground and cried and his tears fell on the earth where they would eventually find their watery way through the loam to Incognito Creek.” – Jim from The Boy in the Burning House by Tim Wynne-Jones, page 36
“Suddenly Jim knew what it must be like to be Ruth Rose. To always be under a cloud of suspicion, to never be accepted at face value. As soon as you knew she was under medication, that she had been institutionalized, you could never be sure. And Father had made sure everybody knew that.” – Jim from The Boy in the Burning House by Tim Wynne-Jones, page 175