Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fire in the Hills by Donna Jo Napoli

“Why did you join?”

“It doesn’t matter.  Everyone has a different story.  A German soldier shoots two men, and their widows, who never even liked each other before, find they are best friends.  They start a little band of resistance.  And they meet another woman whose father was killed, and she bands with them.  And another woman who was raped by a Nazi officer, and she bands with them.  And the girl who watched her mother get raped.  And the girl who watched her brother get arrested and dragged away.  Everyone has a personal story.  But in the end, they’re all the same.”
  (from Fire in the Hills, pages 92-93)

Back in August, I reviewed Donna Jo Napoli’s World War II novel for young adults, Stones in Water.  Napoli tells the story of Roberto, a young boy from Venice, Italy, who goes to the cinema with his brother and some friends, and the Germans come in and round up all the boys and transport them to work camps.  Roberto successfully escapes from a work camp in the Ukraine, but he must make his way on foot back to Venice.  While I really enjoyed Stones in Water, I was a little frustrated with the open ending, and I was thrilled when Napoli e-mailed me to say there was a sequel called Fire in the Hills

Fire in the Hills opens with Roberto still hoping to return to Venice (Note:  I’m not telling you anything big or giving away the end to Stones in Water).  He’s finally made it to Italy, but the German occupation means his hardships are far from over.  Roberto is alone and hungry, and while he’s grown up a lot since his capture, he’s really still a child.  He wants most to get back to his parents, learn what happened to his brother, and simply be safe.  However, he’s roaming through Italy depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter.  Roberto is recaptured by the Germans and eventually freed by resistance fighters, whose family takes him in.  While staying with this family, he meets Volpe Rossa (“red fox”), a young girl who is a member of the partigiani, the Italian resistance movement.  Roberto decides to reassess his priorities, putting his desire to see an end to the war above his desire to stay safe, and he embarks on a journey with Volpe Rossa and becomes Lupo (“wolf”).  As Lupo, he goes on many missions, mainly delivering messages and weapons to other resistance fighters -- all as he tries to make his way back home.

Fire in the Hills is full of action and tension, and every time Lupo and Volpe Rossa came in contact with the Nazis, I was on the edge of my seat.  I’d grown attached to Lupo, and I could feel his fear.  I loved the character of Volpe Rossa, a young woman wise beyond her years, a leader with great strength.  She knows how to use her femininity and her beauty to her advantage and to advance the cause -- and no matter what happens, she doesn’t want to be viewed as a helpless girl.  Napoli provides a lot of interesting details about the Italian resistance, emphasizing the role women played in helping bring the war to a close.  She also brilliantly captures the innocence of Lupo, his gentleness and respect for humanity, which he retains despite all of the horrific things he has witnessed.

Fire in the Hills is a wonderful conclusion to the story begun in Stones in Water, but it is a standalone book.  Napoli weaves the major events of Stones in Water into the narrative, so readers have enough information about Roberto and his experiences since the cinema roundup that they shouldn’t feel lost.  While classified as a YA novel, I would recommend this one for mature YA readers.  There is more violence than the previous book, and these scenes might be too much for middle-grade readers.  (Personally, I wouldn’t let my 9-year-old daughter read this book yet, and I think I’d even wait a year or two before giving her my copy of Stones in Water.  But I definitely will recommend these to her at some point.)

These are perfect books if you like historical fiction and would like to learn a little about the German occupation of Italy and the Italian resistance through the eyes of a young boy directly affected by the war.  They are short, but powerful, and because they are geared toward the YA market, they aren’t overwhelming in terms of graphic details.

Fire in the Hills is my 24th book for the WWII reading challenge at War Through the Generations.  I think I'm slowing down with this challenge, but there are so many more WWII books I want to read before the end of the year!

Disclosure:  I borrowed Fire in the Hills from the library.


Serena said...

I really think these sound fantastic!

Anonymous said...

I am amazed by how many books you've read for this challenge.

I have an award for you, by the way.

Jo-Jo said...

Great review...these do sound like great books!

Ladytink_534 said...

Oh very neat! I haven't read too many books set in this era and the ones I have were nothing like this!

DCMetroreader said...

I'm starting to branch out to historical fiction. Thanks for the review.

bermudaonion said...

This does sound good. I don't think I've ever read anything about the German occupation of Italy so it would all be new to me.

Staci said...

This one did sound a bit mature for that younger audience. I loved her book Bound. I recommend it a lot to girls who are looking for a great read. Great review!!

Tricia said...

I have enjoyed the two Napoli books I've read in the past. I hadn't heard of these, but they sound great. Thanks for the review!

Suko said...

24 books! Historical fiction is such a great way to learn and bring history to life.

Excellent review!

I've added you to my blogroll. :)

Veens said...

Wow another WW2 winner! I liked the plot of this one. I will keep this in my mind!

Toni said...

Wow.. Both books sound awesome. Thanks for the review. Thank you!

Blodeuedd said...

Sounds great. Very nice review. Have not read much about Italy during the war, if anything

Anna said...

~Serena: They are! If you ever want to borrow my copy of the first book, feel free.

~carolsnotebook: Me, too. I never expected to read this many for the challenge! Thanks for the award!

~Jo-Jo: Thanks!

~Ladytink: You should give these a try then!

~DCMetroreader: I love historical fiction. I hope you find that you do, too. :)

~bermudaonion: You should definitely read these. They're a nice introduction.

~Staci: Thanks! I haven't read any of her other books, but I'm hoping to down the road.

~Tricia: Glad to know her other books are good, too!

~Suko: Thanks! I've added you to mine as well.

~Veens: Great! Let me know if you get a chance to read them.

~Toni: Thanks!

~Blodeuedd: Thanks! You should give these a try.

Alyce said...

I wasn't aware of these books, so thanks for the information about them.

Anna said...

~Alyce: You're welcome! Hope you get a chance to check them out.

Wanda said...

OK, I came here specifically looking for this review wondering if it was a sequel because of something mentioned in the end of Stones in Water. Happy to know there's a follow-up but now I don't want to read the rest of your review -- I know I'll be reading Fire in the Hills and will return to this later.

Can you tell how much I liked the 1st book!? Will try to get a review up later this week ... popping over to my library site right now to see about putting Fire in the Hills on hold, thanks Anna!!

CherryBlossomMJ said...

And then there are more to the TBR list

Anna said...

~Wanda: I'm so glad you enjoyed Napoli's books. I can't remember if I read your reviews yet. I'm so far behind in everything related to the Internet it's crazy. But I'll definitely have them read when I post your reviews on the challenge blog. ;)

~CherryBlossomMJ: Hey, the more books, the merrier, right? :)

Wanda said...

A quick but emotional read, I finished this one the first week of Dec. but just got my review up this morning. Like you, I'd probably wait 'til grade 6 before recommending this one to my younger daughter.

Great review, Anna! I'll link it to mine OK ...

Anna said...

~Wanda: Thanks! I'll check out your review and get it on the war challenge blog soon.