It starts with a fire. A diary. A murder.
Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, she doesn’t believe that her mother killed herself three years ago. And since her father is about to be executed for his crimes, Molly is convinced that her mother will return to her soon. Finally, the hole in her heart will stop hurting.
Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with serious girl problems and the most embarrassing seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer…or fail out of school.
And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.
When Molly and Pepper are tasked with finding Ava’s murderer, they realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Mild sexual themes, Discussion of suicide
Booklist (May 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 17))
Grades 9-12. When Ava Dreyman was killed in an East Berlin prison, all she left behind was a diary. Decades later, that diary might hold the truth about Molly Mavity’s mother’s disappearance, but she’ll need the help of Kuwaiti American Pepper Al Yusef to unlock its secrets, and they’ll have to travel all the way to Berlin and back to do it. Oakes’ sophomore novel unfolds in a series of soul-bearing letters (from Molly to Pepper) and lighthearted essays (Pepper’s last-chance assignment to graduate high school), all interspersed with passages from Ava’s compelling diary. Though the middle drags a bit, and the ultimate reveal might be predictable to some readers, Oakes has some brilliant moments—Ava’s mother, a resistance fighter who burns East German buildings, gives fiery speeches about anger, destruction, and power. Molly and Pepper’s lively friendship unfolds with spirited warmth, and intricate connections between their families tantalizingly come to the surface. Packed with dynamic characters, thoughtful writing, and a decades-spanning mystery, this will appeal to readers looking for something off the beaten path.
Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2017)
Fire forges historical and contemporary connections among three troubled teens. The three teen narrators could easily star in their own books. Instead, their voices and lives intertwine in an implausible plot full of coincidences and conveniently chatty villains. Rebellious white redhead Molly Mavity writes sarcastic, tense-shifting letters to her friend Pepper, who lies in a coma. Molly, whose arsonist father will soon be executed, is convinced her mother is alive—despite her suicide. Ibrahim “Pepper” Al-Yusef, a Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy and a comic-relief seizure pug, wryly weaves his views on everything from friendship to racism into a series of essays assigned by a long-suffering teacher as a condition of graduation. Both gradually reveal how they followed a stranger’s clues to Berlin in search of Ava Dreyman, a teen from the former East Germany who became an Anne Frank–esque symbol for the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ava, whose diary of resisting the Stasi, escaping to America, and finding romance ends with her murder in 1989, connects Molly and Pepper in a far-flung way. Though Ava’s accounts of oppression are chilling, Pepper’s awkwardness is endearing, and Molly’s grief is brutal, the mastermind’s far-fetched scheme and Molly and Pepper’s improbable stunts in Berlin ultimately muffle the strong voices of all three characters. A convoluted mystery that flavors the darkness of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (2012) with the contrivances of Scooby Doo. (Mystery. 14-18)
About the Author
Stephanie Oakes lives in Spokane, Washington, and works as a library media teacher at a combined elementary and middle school. She has an MFA in poetry from Eastern Washington University. Her first book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, was a Morris Award finalist and a Golden Kite Honor book.
Her website is www.stephanieoakesbooks.com
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