Playing With Fire – April Henry – Henry Holt and Co – Published 19 January 2021



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.

My thoughts

Fires, bush, wild, deliberately lit and with devastating impacts, are a fact of life for many. You have only to look to the previous summer or two to see the evidence of their far reaching effects. Sadly, so many of them are deliberately lit or caused by stupidity or carelessness and that is exactly what happens in Playing With Fire. The book does a fantastic job of exploring the horrific consequences of fires and the importance of treating it responsibly, without being sanctimonious, and all  within the plot of adventure and survival.

Natalia knows first hand just how bad fire can be. She survived the house fire that killed her baby brother, but she carries the heavy burden of guilt and grief. When she goes hiking with her co-worker Wyatt, she is both prepared and playing it safe. She could never have planned for a wildfire that blocks them in with no choice to trek deeper into the woods, trying to outrun the flames. 

Natalia and Wyatt are not alone. With them are the others in the same clearing. From different walks of life and some not at all prepared for a fast and dangerous race through thick terrain. Wyatt and Natalia make a great team. It’s easy to see their connection, though Natalia is playing it safe and keeping the walls up around her heart, knowing Wyatt may not look at her in the same way once he knows the truth about what her past holds. 

As Natalia faces the wildfires, she has flashbacks to six years ago and the fire that changed her life. This allows the reader to learn more about why she fears fire so much and the trauma she is facing now she is confronted with flames again.

Playing with Fire is a thrilling adventure. Everything that could go wrong, does. It is up to Wyatt and Natalia to help get the others through the forest, across dangerous bridges, through serious health issues and injuries. It made me very aware of the importance of first aid training and always being prepared for an emergency. There are some great tips and tricks to pick up along the way and will no doubt encourage young readers to take up hiking or scouting. The romance is sweet but doesn’t take the focus, there isn’t much time when they are literally running for their lives, but it was a nice edition to the story.

Diversity isn’t a theme of this book, but I loved how genuine and yet deliberate the author is about naming and identifying the members of the group – “dark haired, white guy”, “Hispanic”, “Asian-American”. There are also a variety of ages in the group traveling together, health conditions, interests and fitness levels. There is also a bad guy among them. Thanks to the first chapter, the reader knows right from the beginning who the culprit it, we just don’t know why. This lends a certain air of drama as we wait for the group to discover the truth for themselves.

Playing With Fire is a thrilling novel and a fantastic addition to our library’s adventure collection.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction

Genre: Adventure

Themes: Fire, wildfires, romance, first aid, medical emergencies, survival, hiking.

Reading age guide: Ages 12 and up.

Advisory: Death, death of young child, injuries, medical emergencies.

Published: 19 January 2021 by Henry Holt and Company.

Format: Hardcover, ebook. 240 pages.

ISBN: 9781250234063

Find it on Goodreads