Rank 6

When Emily’s father signs her up for a wilderness survival camping trip in order to assuage his guilt at the divorce, she decides to take one special item: a rope to hang herself. Emily has been bullied at school, and now sees no reason to continue to live. But the trip goes horribly wrong when a forest fire overtakes their campground. Everyone has to hurriedly evacuate on foot as the road is no longer useable. Emily helps an older couple she had met, and when their miniature poodle Buttons takes off into the trees, Emily goes to find him. They are cut off from the group by the fast moving flames, and Emily’s survival instinct kicks in.

They make it to a small lake, and just miss two men driving out, towing their boat. Emily finds a waterproof cooler they had left behind, and uses it as a float, throwing Buttons inside. Once out in the lake, she remembers to give Buttons air, and they make it to a shoreline with water access only cottages. A rough cabin is unlocked, and they shelter there, finding a few canned goods to eat. Emily falls asleep, and is awoken by Buttons just before a tree falls on the cabin: the fire has jumped over the lake, and the cabin is soon aflame. She manages to free an aluminum canoe, and paddles them to a small swampy island. They have escaped the fire, but a bear is also taking refuge there, and Emily and Buttons huddle under their canoe for protection. A lightning storm overnight controls the flames, and they make it back to the boat launch, where Buttons finds one of the men, with burns and a broken leg. He begs Emily to search for his father, who she finds dead underneath their boat. Wearing the dead man’s shoes, Emily makes it back to the campground, where she finds an RV with keys. Although only 15, she manages to drive it out to the main road, and gets help. When her rescuers ask her how she managed, she credits Buttons and her rope, “I probably wouldn’t be alive without it.” (p 162) She then realizes she has no further need of it. This is an easy reading, fast-paced adventure about dealing with a natural disaster, which is occurring with frightening frequency. The added bonus is that a teen girl realizes how capable and valuable she is, and how much she has to live for.

— Patricia Jermey

Kay Weisman CM: Canadian Review of Materials, XXV, No. 2, 2019


This is what it will look like when the world ends.

The thought came suddenly to Emily. Once she would have found it disturbing. Now it was oddly thrilling. For a moment she considered sharing it with the others. Emily glanced around the van. There was tension on every face, except for a cheerful boy with Down syndrome. Emily suspected the boy didn’t even realize everyone was spooked. He appeared to be about thirteen, two or three years younger than Emily and the other campers.

She was the calmest person in the vehicle, a situation that would have amazed anyone who knew her well. Even Big John, the expedition leader, was finding it hard to keep his composure. He was middle-aged, imposingly tall and broad shouldered. His company brochure described him as ex-military and an expert on wilderness survival. Earlier that morning, at the meet-and-greet in a parking lot, he’d never stopped smiling. Emily thought it was unnatural, even a little creepy. Now the smile was gone. He was driving the van and finding it difficult to see through the haze.

Emily, 15, has been sent on a wilderness survival trip while her parents adjust to life following their divorce. Emily suffers from low self-esteem, both at home and at school, and has secretly decided to end her life by hanging while on this trip. It’s also wildfire season, and Emily’s group has barely arrived at their smoky BC campsite when a conflagration erupts and the entire area must be evacuated. During the exodus, a poodle belonging to an elderly couple dashes into the woods and Emily tries to rescue it, separating herself and the dog from the rest of the campers. Emily and the poodle are forced to run through the woods and swim across a lake before they take refuge in an abandoned cabin. When the cabin catches fire, they escape back to the lake, swimming to a swampy island where they encounter a hungry bear. Eventually Emily and the dog are safely rescued, at which point she decides to abandon her suicidal thoughts.

The author of Redcoats and Renegades (https://umanitoba.ca/cm/vol19/no5/redcoatsandrenegades.html) and The Youngest Spy (https://www.umanitoba.ca/outreach/cm/vol14/no7/theyoungestspy.html2007) offers here a contemporary, action-filled story. McDivitt, who covered numerous wildfires during his career as a journalist, writes knowledgeably of fire details: how fast they can spread, their effects on humans and wildlife, and how they are ranked. Emily is resourceful, determined, and always thinking of others throughout her ordeal. Less convincing is Emily’s transformation from suicidal to resilient teen. Yes, the fire has made Emily more confident of her skills, but her family and the mean kids at school remain the same. Additionally, multiple typos and missing words make one wish for more capable copy editors. A compelling read despite these flaws, this should find an audience with fans of Shari Green’s Missing Mike. (http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/vol24/no34/missingmike.html)


— Kay Weisman