Riley’s Fire

Crafting a story about a seven-year-old burn victim is a risky move given the very good chances your novel will career into the maudlin and the morbid. Nevertheless, El Pasoan LEE MERRILL BYRD gives us RILEY’S FIRE and its rambunctious kid protagonist, Riley Martin, whose curiosity about matches and gasoline lands him in Galveston’s Shriners Burns Institute with third-degree burns over 63 percent of his body. He’s not doing so well at first, loaded up with painkillers and semiconscious; when he eventually reawakens, it’s into an alien world of scarred children and scared adults. Byrd’s approach is eloquent but plainspoken—no sensationalism or hysteria here. Riley’s Fire is more than fiction for the author, whose own two young sons were Shriners patients after a playhouse fire. But time has been a crucible of sorts, crystallizing that experience into this singularly powerful book. Algonquin, $19.95

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