Fire Color One
by Valentine, Jenny






Following her fortune-hunting mother's plan, a teenaged arsonist meets her wealthy, dying father, the owner of a priceless art collection, only to discover that the stories she has been told about him all her life might not have been true.





Jenny Valentine studied English literature at Goldsmiths College, which almost put her off reading, but not quite. Her debut novel, Me, the Missing, and the Dead, was a Morris Award finalist, and won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize under the title Finding Violet Park. She is also the author of Carnegie Medal finalist Fire Color One as well as Hello Now. Jenny is married to a singer/songwriter and has two children.





Iris is only truly happy when she's watching fire. She's certainly not happy spending time with her vain, indifferent mother or her fame-hungry stepdad. And she isn't pleased to be dragged across the ocean to meet the father who abandoned her-even if he is dying. She quickly learns, however, the stories she was told about her dad might not be the whole truth. Iris and her father bond over a shared knowledge of art (he is an accomplished buyer), forging a connection beyond blood. Valentine (Me, the Missing, and the Dead, 2008) has composed a beautifully written exploration of the longing to know where one comes from, tempered by a fear of rejection. The story authentically captures both Iris' exhilaration when she's transfixed by a flame, and her pain and confusion as she forges a relationship with a man about whom she's never heard a good word. This is a quiet, reflective novel that blooms into a thrilling mystery, and its complex family dynamics will appeal to fans of Jenny Downham's Unbecoming (2016). Copyright 2016 Booklist Reviews.





In any family, not everything is as it seems, but in Iris' family, this is a big problem.When white, 16-year-old Iris meets her father for the first time, he is dying. That doesn't stop her from feeling ambivalent. She has no memories of him and has been told all her life by her mother that he left 12 years ago because he wasn't interested in being a dad. She doesn't even want to meet him, but her mother insists because of the potential for a valuable inheritance. Iris has had no experience with positive parenting role models. Her mother and stepfather are usually drunk, broke, or trying desperately to get the big break they refuse to admit isn't coming. Iris' best friend, Thurston, left home long ago, so no parents there. When her dad and his story turn out to be completely different from what she's been told, it's both confusing and amazing. But how much love can they manage in the time he has left? Valentine writes about family dysfunction, arson, and art with equal levels of beauty and lyricism, creating a vivid landscape of heartache and redemption. The plot dips forward and backward in time with clarity and precision, managing to avoid tripping even in narrative tight corners. A story about an ugly situation that explodes into beauty through cunning and resilience. (Fiction. 13-17) Copyright Kirkus 2016 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.





Prologue
 
At my father’s funeral, after everything, I lit a great big fire in his honor, built from stacked apple crates and broken furniture and pieces of a fallen-down tree. It towered over the scrubby piece of land I call the bonfire garden, and blazed, far enough from the house and too far gone to fight, against the fading afternoon. On the lawn below me, my family gulped for air in shock, like landed fish. They clawed at their own faces like Edvard Munch’s Screamers, like meth-heads. Mourners poured from the house, designer-clad and howling, lit up like specters by the flames.
 
My stepfather, Lowell Baxter, aging pinup boy, one-time TV star, and current no-hoper, stood swaying, dazed and hollow-eyed, a man woken up in the wrong place after a long sleep. Hannah, my mother, crumpled on to the wet grass like a just-born foal in all her credit-card finery, her gorgeous face collapsing in a slow puncture. She clutched at her own clothes, sobbing violently, but she didn’t bother getting to her feet. I doubt she could remember how, she was so weighted down with debt.
 
I could have filmed them, preserved their agonies for repeat viewings, but I didn’t. I did what my best and only friend, Thurston, always told me. I savored the moment, because the moment was more than enough. I stood back and watched them suffer, feeding fistfuls of paper to the flames.
 
I wondered if they’d ever speak to me again. I’ve always longed for Hannah and Lowell to stop talking.
 
They didn’t behave that way when it was my father in the furnace. Neither of them was sorry to see him go. Before the fire, there was a service for him at the crematorium. Ernest Toby Jones, one of a queue of waiting dead. Lowell worked the room in a tight suit, and Hannah wore big black sunglasses to hide her lack of tears, and shiny black high heels with red soles, same color as her lipstick. High-impact accessories are my mother’s answer to big occasions, in place of actual feelings.
 
I couldn’t stand the thought of Ernest lying in that box with the lid closed, all dark and lonely and gone. None of it made sense to me. I couldn’t keep up. But like water putting out a lit match, the rest of the world closed over the fact of his absence and ran on. His hearse continued through everyday traffic. Cars behind him on the road tested their patience throughout his slow and stately journey to the grave. Only one old man, walking with a stick, stopped as the coffin navigated a roundabout and met my eye, and bowed his head politely to the dead.
 
Inside the chapel, a thin crowd spread itself out across the pews and tried to fill up the room. God knows who most of them were. They wore their dullest clothes and tuned their voices to the frequencies of sadness and loss. I sat on my own. I didn’t want anything to do with them.
 
I stared down at Technicolor carpets, cheap knockoffs from The Shining, from a shut-down Las Vegas casino. I wanted to meet the person responsible and find out if they were joking, or color-blind, or just a fan of Stanley Kubrick films. I wanted to tell Thurston about them because he would get it and because, on that day of all days, I could have done with him there. And then I realized the carpets were chosen perfectly, because they took my mind off the elephant in the room, the rubbed-raw stump of what was missing, the lack of my father, the lack of Ernest, who was never ever coming back.
 
I didn’t have him for long enough. That’s the bare bones of it. I wasn’t ready, once I’d found him, to let go.
 
“Do you want a song played?” I’d asked him, the week before. “When the curtains close, when your coffin goes through. Do you want a hymn or something?”
 
He thought about it for one waterlogged, morphine-soft moment.
 
“Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes,” he said, and his voice sat like pea gravel in his mouth, sounded like mice scampering in a faraway attic. It took an age for the words to come out into the air. “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.”
 
“You will never, never, never know me,” I sang, somewhere between laughter and tears.
 
Thurston threw a fake funeral once. He hired a hearse, and his uncle Mac drove it. I sat up front, and even though the coffin behind me was empty, it brooded, like something moody and alive, and I kept thinking there was someone else in the car. The windshield was thick with dead flies. Thurston walked ahead on the street at this slow, slow pace in a threadbare tailcoat and a tall black hat, a face like wet thunder, streaked with tears. It was a Sunday in the suburbs, Long Beach, out by Rossmoor. People were washing their cars and tidying their yards, and a gang of kids were riding their bikes in circles round a run-over cat. Uncle Mac just kept driving, slow as could be, following Thurston’s lead with a great big smile plastered to his face. He didn’t know what was going to happen next, and he liked it that way.
 
“I trust the boy,” he said, “’cause he’s a genius.”
 
I wasn’t about to argue with that.
 
The kids stopped circling, people stopped mowing and raking, and more still came right out of their houses, and everyone watched this funeral that wasn’t theirs. You could see them wondering whose it was and what the hell it was doing on their street, on their weekend. And then when we had everyone’s attention, Thurston reached into his jacket pocket at the exact same time I opened the car windows and cranked up the stereo, “It’s Just Begun” by the Jimmy Castor Bunch. In one fluid movement, as the music gathered itself together, Thurston took four home-made pigment bombs and flung them out and down on the ground in front of him. He walked, and we followed, stately and respectful, through a thick and billowing cloud of color that swelled and rose and then drifted down, clinging to his tear-stained skin and his black clothes and to our somber, bug-stuck car. As we emerged from the color cloud and the song kicked in, Thurston started to dance. Not just foot tapping or finger clicking, not just any old thing. His whole body dipped and slipped and flowed like water through the music, the notes flinging him into the air and then low and wide across the ground until the smile on my face hurt just watching him, until I forgot to breathe. God, that boy could move.
 
Everybody but us was still, like we’d cast some kind of spell on them, like we’d stopped time but carried on traveling right through it. People stared. That’s all they could do. It was the kind of funeral you’d long to have, the kind you’d see and then years later couldn’t say if it was real or only a dream.
 
It was a moment, that’s what it was. Thurston dreamed it up and handed it over to those Rossmoor people, for free. They had no idea what they were getting. They didn’t know how lucky they were.
 
When Ernest’s emptied body had hit temperatures close to 1600 degrees Fahrenheit and had been reduced to a shoe box full of strangely damp sand, cooling down for collection, I wished for him a great burst of sound and color, a celebration, a free dream. Instead everything was quiet and ordinary and shut down. There might have been a hymn, and people got up and shuffled out, looking only at the ground. We drove back in silence to his house for refreshments and small talk, for gin-laced cocktails and tiny, harpooned sandwiches on the lawn. It would have been so much better with Thurston there to help me. I remember thinking that. It would have been something breathtaking and spectacular.
 
I wasn’t wrong.
 
In the end, it was my best and last fire. I went out into the garden. The heat had dropped out of the sun and the light was leaving. I took a deep breath. I lit a match, put it calmly to the gas-soaked rags at the bonfire’s skirts, and I waited.
 
And I only wished, with all my heart, that Ernest could have been around to see it.






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