Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes-- Mystery, History, Adventure.

The Arsonist

Molly's dad is on death row, her mother supposedly committed suicide-- and she's the only one who believes that her mother could still be alive. As her father's execution date grows near, Molly gets clues that lead her to Pepper (a Kuwaiti-born teen), and she knows he's supposed to help her unravel the mystery of her family.

Pepper is a boy who doesn't really see himself.  He dreams of being President of the USA, even though he's not American born, failing out of school, and frankly not all that articulate or smart.  When a series of events happen to put Molly in his life, he starts seeing life for what it actually is-- and not what he's been trying to ignore.

The clues the pair receive take them back to 1980's East Berlin-- the Cold War era, where a girl named Ava became the face of the revolution.  The truth about Ava will unravel everything for Molly and Pepper-- if only they can figure it out.

I want to tell you right off the bat that this review will not come close to doing this book justice.  I want to tell you all how amazing and awesome this book is in a coherent way that really conveys the perfection of this book.  But I am going to fail.

This book is amazing and awesome-- wait, I already said that.  Okay, let me try again.  This book is about so much more than I thought it would be about.  I thought I was getting a story about a serial arsonist-- and it WAS about that-- but it was about a lot more.  It was about Ava Dreyman, a historical figure who became the Anne Frank of 1980's Berlin.  It was about Pepper and his smooshy dog Bertrand and his dad's sadness.  It was about Molly's complicated family and their story.  But it all wove together so beautifully and perfectly, that I couldn't believe I was reading YA.

Not to say YA isn't smart or detailed, but this felt like more than what I think of YA to be.  Again, I'm not explaining that well because I LOVE YA.  I would defend YA to the death.  But I don't necessarily equate YA with super literary books (and I think that's a good thing)-- THE ARSONIST is literary.  It should be read in classrooms.

I FELT like I was reading something real.  I FELT Ava's story as real.  I FELT like I was on Pepper and Molly's epic adventure, and the implications of it felt real.

Was I 100% happy with the way the ending came together??  No.  I was hoping for a much neater bow to put on the top of this package-- but that fact didn't diminish my love for the experience of this book.

Friendship, Adventure, History, Family.  That's what this book was.  It was a journey and a mystery, and I was glad to be along for the ride.

OVERALL: Do you want to go on a journey to unravel a historical mystery that could change EVERYTHING for 2 unlikely friends??  This book was exceptional, and definitely one of the best books I've read in 2017.  I highly recommend for fans of adventure, mystery, and historical elements in books.

Date Published: 8/22/2017
How I got this book: Books for Trade!
Publisher: Dial Books/Penguin

Add it to your To-Read List!!

My Rating: 5/5

Character: Pepper Al-Yusef
Book: Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick

  • Nanette is searching for self-identity in ways that remind me of what Pepper is going through.  (Although, Pepper is 1000 x's more awesome than Nanette).


  1. Nice! Glad this one worked so well. It does sound a bit more literary than a lot of YA, and the 80's historical angle sounds interesting too.

    1. It was seriously so good. It was a little long, but worth it. I'm not a big historical fiction person, but this one mixed the modern with the historical perfectly.

  2. GAH this makes me SO happy, I have been really excited about this one, but hadn't heard a lot about it. I loved Minnow Bly, so I figured this would be good. I need to bump this up on my list for sure. Great review, I am so glad you loved it!

    1. I really really want to read Minnow Bly now. This book was fantastic and definitely in the running for one of my faves of the year.

  3. This was a book I have had my eye on, and you totally convinced me that I need to read it, even if you had some reservations about the endings (I have that thing about endings). An epic adventure and mystery. Sounds fabulous.

    1. It was super fab. I hope you try it-- it's a thick book, but worth it. It packs so much story into all those pages!! The ending was perfectly good, I was just hoping for MORE.

  4. You've convinced me, adding this to my wish list!

    1. YAY!! I think it's worth a try. It's so different.