At the start of his sophomore year in high school, Luther Wright is beginning to feel out of place among his friends. Instead of hitting the practice field, the ex-football player and wrestler has decided to help out the local veterinarian, Kay, rehabilitate her raptors, or birds of prey, such as eagles, hawks, falcons, and owls. Luther struggles with his decisions: Of course he wants his friends to still like him, but at the same time, he wants to explore his new interests. One of those interests just happens to be Alex, the daughter of the Fish and Wildlife warden.
Meanwhile, all around Luther's small town of Heartwood, Montana, the forests are burning after one of the driest summers on record. Vic, Luther's stepfather, a logger for the local mill, is hired by the Forest Service to help fight the fires. When more fires start under suspicious circumstances, local politics turn nasty. With Alex's help, Luther decides to take sides, but can he stick to his beliefs in the face of peer pressure?
It is no wonder that Sneed B. Collard III's Flash Point has won multiple awards. This is a complex and action-packed story that would appeal to many middle school readers, both boys and girls. On one level, the novel explores Luther's dilemma of being torn between a newfound passion (working with the birds) and wanting to fit in with the high school crowd. Although Luther is a good kid, he is by no means perfect. He makes poor choices, is awkward with Alex, and waivers in his commitment to being outspoken about protecting wildlife.
What make this book unique in terms of environmental issues is that it is not one-sided and does not preach a particular viewpoint. As Luther learns about forest management, he discovers that real-life concerns do not have easy answers. Loggers, mill owners, forestry officials, environmentalists, local businesses, and recreationalists all have a different perspective on how we should treat our wild areas. Although Sneed makes a case for the protection of nature, he presents the arguments sympathetically and avoids labeling any one group as being all evil.
Flash Point brings up several other themes that make good talking points: how the media can manipulate attitudes toward local events, facing the consequences of one's actions, the problems with making quick judgments about others, the difficulties of not going along with the crowd, and how teens can help make a difference. There is also a good bit of information about the care and feeding of raptors. This novel would make an excellent book club selection, parent-child readalong, or classroom assignment.
Flash Point won the 2006 ASPCA Henry Bergh Children's Book Award (honor winner, Young Adult category), the 2007 Green Earth Book Award from the Newton Marasco Foundation, and the 2007 Bank Street College of Education Best Children's Books of the Year (Today category).
For more on author Sneed, see the fabulous guest post he wrote for Beth Fish Reads earlier this year, my review of his novel Double Eagle, and his website.
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Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2006
Challenges: Young Adult, 100+
Source: Review copy (see review policy)