The Fire-Eaters

by David Almond

A “small, wild-eyed, bare-chested man” covered with scars and faded tattoos,... read more

A “small, wild-eyed, bare-chested man” covered with scars and faded tattoos, McNulty ekes out a living by performing grotesque stunts for spare change. He escapes from tightly wrapped chains, he shoves a skewer through his cheeks, he breathes fire. McNulty’s grasp on reality fades in and out, but his barely controlled fear and agitation perfectly mirror the mounting tension among residents of a small town on the English coast. Like the rest of the world, they are waiting to see what will come of the rising hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union as the Cuban Missile Crisis seems headed toward nuclear disaster. Bobby Burns, whose own life reflects the larger world turmoil of 1962, is drawn to McNulty from the first time he sees him. Starting a new school where he is automatically condemned for his family’s working-class status is hard enough, but Bobby must also figure out how to maintain relationships with his childhood friends as their paths begin to diverge. Most alarmingly, his father seems seriously ill, and Bobby is terrified at this possible loss. Memorable characters and a close-up look at a critical event in recent world history from an unexpected perspective combine in this fine novel from a consistently outstanding contemporary writer. Author David Almond confronts big issues head-on in the winner of the 2003 Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award. (Ages 12–15)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2005

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