Summary: Seventeen year-old Nathan is half-Native, half-white, living with a foster family called the Whitmans because his mother has kicked him out. With his outsider status Nathan finds himself constantly struggling to be heard and believed, but a relationship with a classmate named Sally changes everything as she is also considered an outsider. When someone sets fire to Sally’s house and Nathan witnesses it, the police don’t believe he didn’t do it himself. No proof means they can’t arrest him though, but Nathan is motivated to find out who really did it so they don’t come after him again. At first Sally seems willing to help him, except it turns out she has secrets and people to protect of her own. In the midst of the mystery and turmoil, Nathan meets Jenny, a Native who encourages him to get to know his other side, and find out who he really is.
Number of Pages: 207
Age Range: 13-15
Review: Though Trial by Fire was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award, what I really liked about it wasn’t the mystery, but Nathan himself. He was such a compelling character, trying his best to find his place in the world, despite being faced with so many obstacles. It seemed like he always got the short end of the stick, blamed for things that weren’t his fault and the target of anger he didn’t deserve. There were times I wanted to cry because he’s so good-natured he just takes it, believing others are right to mad at him and not understanding they all had their own issues going on.
In some ways this makes him seem younger than his seventeen years, but his experiences have made him into a gentle person who has to learn to stand up for himself. When people started listening to his side of the story, I felt like cheering on his behalf because he had to fight so hard to make it happen.
When it came to who burned down Sally’s house, I had my suspicions some things weren’t being said. It seemed to take Nathan a long time to figure out what was going on, but compared to the police who simply believed Nathan had done it, it actually wasn’t long.
My favourite aspect of Dalton’s story is the way Nathan comes into the Native part of his personal history. I wish I could read more about him becoming a healer, because he seems like he would be especially skilled at it as he is such a caring character. An action packed book with great character development, Trial by Fire is an enjoyable read for early to mid teens.
“Nathan was running. With the wind blowing hard against his face and whipping his long, straight hair into a banner behind him, he was happy. Running meant freedom. Running meant no one could catch him.
Though his lungs ached and his muscles burned, he drove himself on, faster and faster, as if he could outpace the heavy darkness with the force of his pumping legs. He knew that if he picked up enough speed, it would empty his head – of what he’d done, his mom, the Group Home, what the kids at school were saying about him. And maybe even old man Whitmore.” – Nathan from Trial by Fire by Sheila Dalton, page 5
“There was something to what she said, Nathan was beginning to realize that. But why did she always overstate the case? He wasn’t ashamed of who he was, because he didn’t know who he was. First things first. He was starting to think, though, that Jenny must have been pretty hurt herself, somehow, and it made him feel closer to her.” – Nathan from Trial by Fire by Sheila Dalton, page 130
“Dreams could come and dreams could go, he knew that now. Maybe all the things he thought he wanted for himself would change yet again. But, for the first time in his life, he had choices. And that felt good.
He was looking forward to the time – coming soon, the doctors told him – when he could run again. He missed it. But now, and in the future, he’d be running towards, not away from, something. And that felt best of all.” – Nathan from Trial by Fire by Sheila Dalton, page 207