When a fire cuts off a popular trail in the Oregon forest, a small group trapped by the flames must find another way out – or die – in Playing with Fire, an unrelenting teen-vs-nature YA thriller by New York Times bestselling author April Henry.
Natalia is not the kind of girl who takes risks. Six years ago, she barely survived the house fire that killed her baby brother. Now she is cautious and always plays it safe. For months, her co-worker Wyatt has begged her to come hiking with him, and Natalia finally agrees.
But when a wildfire breaks out, blocking the trail back, a perfect sunny day quickly morphs into a nightmare. With no cell service, few supplies, and no clear way out of the burning forest, a group of strangers will have to become allies if they’re going to survive. Hiking in the dark, they must reach the only way out – a foot bridge over a deep canyon – before the fire catches them.
I want to get into more books featuring People Trapped In Situations this year, so this story of a girl trapped in a wildfire with strangers, trying to battle their way out, sounded like it was going to be an easy 5 star read for me. Unfortunately, it was so poorly written I was left wondering if I read a first draft.
The story is very formulaic, designed to show off the author’s first aid training which doesn’t translate well to a 17 year old that did a Red Cross course one time. So they would walk a little bit, an event would happen – dislocated shoulder, panic attack, some bears, someone fell face first into bees? – and there would be pages and pages going into detail of all the medical knowledge this one 17 year old had, and then off again until the next event.
There is supposed to be some element of romance between Natalia and Wyatt, but I had trouble remembering he was even there most of the time. I’m not sure what their relationship was before the hike, how they met or if it was even supposed to be a date. There’s no scenes of them bonding, it’s just on to the next emergency.
What decided the one star rating for me was that as short as this book is, the penultimate chapter had Natalia in a perilous situation, they hadn’t got close to finding their way out yet and just before she was about to be saved or lost, the chapter and story ended. The next chapter is set one year later, cramming the details about them getting out in a quick paragraph and closing the story. I never got that moment of the characters realising that they were rescued and I’m mad about it.
I was left with a lot of questions that weren’t answered, like where the rescue team that was supposed to meet them in the bridge was, why they never spotted any helicopters, why we never really got closure with Natalia’s loss of her brother. I may have missed these answers in the crammed last chapter.