HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Fire in the Heart
Author: Liza Ketchum Murrow
Publisher: iUniverse, republished in 2000
ISBN-13: 978-0823407507 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0823407500 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0595091997 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0595091997 Paperback
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: For ages 9-11 and up, but I would say 14 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Murrow, Liza Ketchum. Fire in the Heart (published in 1989 by Holiday House Inc., 518 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022; republished in 1991 by Troll Associates, Mahway, NJ). It is the summer of 1988, and fourteen-year-old Molly O’Connor, born in 1974, lives on a farm on Rock River Rd. near Griswold, VT with her dad Mark, a construction contractor, her step-mom Blair, a photographer, her older brother Todd, sixteen, and Crisco, her old collie. Molly’s best friend is Kai Stewart whose Boston family spends the summers in Vermont, but right now Kai seems more interested in Todd than in Molly. In addition, Molly seems to have trouble getting along with Blair. Molly’s real mom, Ashley Bell O’Connor, a geologist, had died in a tragic automobile accident in California ten years earlier in 1978 along with a strange man named Paul Leone. Then Mark gets a letter from a Ramon Rodriguez, a student intern with the Nevada City Historical Society in California, which mentions his deceased first wife, and when Molly accidentally sees it, it motivates her to begin asking questions.
However, Mr. O’Connor refuses to talk about Molly’s mother and warns that it’s best to leave the past alone. Her eighty-year-old maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Stark Bell, whom she calls Grand Nan, is suffering from beginning dementia and can’t remember a lot of things. Grand Nan’s cousin Sadie Hall, who lives nearby and can remember, seems to be on the outs with the rest of the family. Will Molly ever be able to uncover the mystery surrounding her mother’s death? Why did Ashley go to California? And what was her relationship with Paul Leone? Molly eventually learns that at the time of her death, her mother was searching for a gold nugget buried during the Gold Rush by an ancestor, Abigail Parker, who is the heroine of Murrow’s West Against the Wind (1987). There are some things I don’t like about Fire in the Heart. It is said that people “swore” or engaged in “cursing,” and in addition to some common euphemisms (blasted, gee, dratted), the “d” word is used once, and the terms “God” and “Lord” occur a few times as exclamations.
Also, there are references to drinking beer, wine, and champagne. One scene mentions that “Kai wore a lacy pink bra over rounded breasts, with matching bikini underwear” in contrast to Molly’s “white cotton briefs and the tiny bra she wore simply to escape taunts in gym class.” Do we really need to know that? Molly does a little bit of lying in the process of trying to find out information about her mother, and some parents will want to know that a somewhat detailed description of a little adolescent kissing is found. While the book is basically about people who are rather worldly, I generally enjoyed the plot, which is presented in a manner which kept my interest. If the objectionable elements can be overlooked, there is a story which many readers should find interesting, especially in the way that Molly and her family finally find closure and healing for their old wounds.