cover image Burning Up

Burning Up

Caroline B. Cooney, Ferris. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32318-5

What does a 1959 barn fire in Macey's affluent Connecticut town have to do with an arsonist's attack on an inner-city church where she and classmates volunteer one day? Nothing, as far as the 15-year-old's friends and family are concerned. But Macey, who narrowly escaped the church fire, senses that there is a connection between the two when she researches local history for a school project. Cooney (The Face on the Milk Carton) has produced another tantalizingly dark secret for her protagonist and readers to unravel together. Macey's rising awareness of hate crimes sharply escalates after Venita, whom Macey met at the church, is murdered when she tries to interrupt a gang fight. Macey is appalled by her parents' and grandparents' apparent callousness and their refusal to let her attend the girl's funeral (""Try not to think about Venita,"" her mother says. ""It's so sad, darling, but there is nothing you can do""). Were her grandparents' hearts as cold 40 years ago when the barn apartment of the town's only black resident went up in smoke? Were they responsible for his near death? By interviewing community members and tracking down Mr. Sibley, the tenant of the barn apartment, Macey finds the ugly answers to her questions. Even though Macey's introduction to prejudice and her unshakable nobility are slightly overdrawn, she remains a sympathetic figure, just stubborn and vulnerable enough to be real. Ages 12-up. (Feb.)