Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Words of Stone

Words of Stone

Kevin Henkes
For ages 8 to 10
HarperCollins, 2005   ISBN: 978-0060782306

Blaze is a small boy with flaming red hair. In one way his name suits him, but in another it doesn’t. He isn’t a wild child who is the life of the party. Instead, he is quiet and introverted and he is afraid of many things, including fire. In short, he is a contradiction, which he is very aware of.

He is so aware of it that he is constantly trying to find a way to overcome his fears. For example, over the years he has conjured up a veritable army of imaginary friends to help get over his fear of Ferris wheels. Every time he tries to force himself to get on a Ferris wheel, with his latest imaginary friend my his side, he finds that he is unable to get on the carnival ride and he walks away. Being afraid of so many things is exhausting, and Blaze truly wants to be free of it all.

On the other side of the hill from the house where Blaze lives with his father and grandmother, is the house belonging to Floy, an old lady who prefers to keep herself to herself. Not long ago Floy’s daughter Vicki came by and she dropped off Joselle, Floy’s granddaughter. Vicki has a new man in her life and Joselle has become a nuisance. Wanting to “get away to try to be happy for a while without interruptions,” she dumped her daughter at her mother’s house and drove off. Though Joselle likes to pretend that she is tough and strong, she is heart-broken at her mother’s betrayal. How can her mother just leave her like this?

Joselle takes refuge in the stories that Floy tells her about a boy called Blaze who lives in a house on the other side of the hill. Floy tells Joselle about how Blaze’s mother Reena died of cancer when the boy was only five years old. Then, a year later Blaze was badly burned when there was a fire at the fairgrounds on the Fourth of July. For some reason known only to herself, angry, hurt, and disappointed Joselle decides to do what she can to “complicate the life of Blaze Werla.” Maybe if she can make Blaze’s life more confusing than her own, she will feel less miserable.

Blaze is happy to spend the hot summer days being lazy and hanging out with his father and his grandmother when they are free. Then one morning he wakes up to see that someone has left a message in stones on the hillside behind his house. The message reads REENA. Blaze quickly gets rid of the word, but this does not get rid of the unsettled feeling he has inside. Another message appears a few days later and this one reads FIRE! YOU’RE ON FIRE.

Blaze begins to think that his father’s new girlfriend, Claire, is behind the messages. Who else could it be? One day he is up on the hillside near the place where the messages appear when he meets a girl called Joselle. She is such an odd, interesting person that he feels drawn to her and a friendship of sorts begins to develop between the two children. Though they enjoy each other’s company, Blaze and Joselle hold their secrets close, both afraid of what might happen if those secrets should come out.

People all too often talk about how resilient children are, how they “bounce back” from misfortune. All too often they are wrong. Children take on grief, disappointment, and loss just like everyone else does. This powerful story explores how two children face loss in their lives, and how they cope as best they can with situations that they cannot control.