David Iserson’s Firecracker is the tale of Astrid Kreiger, a 17-yr-old girl from an incredibly wealthy family who has just been expelled from the most recent of many boarding schools (cheating was the offense this time). As punishment, her parents decide to send her to public school – the worst possible place Astrid can imagine. As an additional condition of her punishment, Astrid must also see the dean of her former boarding school on a regular basis – this time as her therapist. Not one to take anything lying down, Astrid vows to discover who betrayed her and exact revenge. What she doesn’t expect is that perhaps not everything about this new school will be as dreadful as it sounds.
Firecracker is essentially a coming-of-age novel with a kick in the balls. Astrid is a wonderful main character to read, and the novel is from her scattered point of view. That isn’t to say that it’s difficult to follow, but somehow, Iserson has managed to get the cadence and drama of a teenage girl. Judging from his jacket photo he’s long past his teen years (ok, not super long because he looks like he’s around my age), and he’s certainly not a girl, so I like that his words rang true. Often when approaching a novel written by a man from a female point of view I am weary. Astrid is a badass with a heart of gold, like Veronica Mars but not as soft. She isn’t popular really, but she’s powerful. She knows how useful people can be and collects them based on their skill sets. This is cold, definitely, but you come to learn that with her family and history, it isn’t surprising. She has incredible self-confidence for such a young girl, and a great sense of humor. I’d definitely have been scared of her if she’d been at my high school, but I definitely would have wanted to be her friend. If Astrid had friends.
Astrid ‘befriends’ Noah and Lisa, two outcasts at her new school. Noah is a young Ducky-like character with a crazy fashion sense and is frustratingly passive, at least in Astrid’s point of view. She definitely grows attached to him but at the same time is astounded that when mocked, threatened, or even beaten, Noah just doesn’t react. In Astrid’s world, lessons have to be learned, and respect has to be demanded. In Noah’s, people who don’t like you or want to be around you just don’t matter and aren’t worth thinking about. It’s a very mature attitude for such a young man, which naturally leads to some conflict I can’t elaborate on without spoilers. Lisa, on the other hand, is just a sad case. Astrid for some reason finds her so pathetic that she feels bad even being completely honest with her when she is asked why only two folks come to her birthday party. Lisa constantly eats her hair, lisps, and is incredibly naïve. What’s awesome about Astrid and Lisa’s relationship is that it’s different from your clichéd wallflower/bright star relationship; Astrid has no interest in fixing Lisa. There isn’t a makeover montage, or more than a mild suggestion she stop chewing her hair. Astrid simply asks what she wants most, and in an effort to do good things (her therapist’s challenge), tries to get them for her.
Astrid’s grandfather has been a major influence in her life and basically shaped her into the person she is when we meet her at the beginning of the novel. His fortune comes from creating weapons and his skills at business, reading people, and negotiations are immeasurable. I believe one of the quotes she references goes something like “Forgiveness is for people who are too weak to hold a grudge.” He’s also trained her to always have a few alibis ready, and promised that he’ll always be one for her if needed. There’s a particularly illuminating memory Astrid has of her grandfather taking her through the Louvre that speaks mountains of why she is the way she is.
This book is seriously awesome. I kind of went over the characters I liked already, but I’ll reiterate; the characters are entertaining. I also really enjoy how this is YA that doesn’t rely on 80s movie conventions. I already pointed out how Astrid doesn’t try to change Lisa; in run-of-the-mill books of this genre, Astrid would have bought Lisa a new wardrobe, speech therapy, and a new hairstyle. Instead of trying to really teach the popular kids a lesson, Astrid takes an unconventional route that I enjoyed. Sure it’s not really poignant, but it’s true to her character and feels genuine. By the end of the novel, Astrid hasn’t really changed all that much. She’s softened a little sure, but we haven’t seen a complete 180 or anything and so it’s nice to send that message – you don’t HAVE to change completely and fit into cookie cutter molds to have a satisfying story in life. I highly recommend reading it. Just FYI, Iserson has written for New Girl and some other shows (SNL? Can’t remember all of them) so that may tell you sort of the sense of humor we’re talking about here. Anyhoo, read it.