Girl on fire by Alicia Keys and Andrew Weiner. Illus. by Brittney Williams

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Lolo Wright is a bright, 14 year old living in a Brooklyn public housing neighbourhood with her 16 year older brother James, her grandma and her father who has started a business “The Wright Movers”. At school Lolo gets some name calling for being a good student but nothing like the rejection Michael “Runt” Warner experiences when he wants to join the football team and is told by the coach to come back when he has grown. The rejection leaves him angry and open to the offer of joining the gang of powerful “Skin” who is planning to expand his local protection and drug ring. When Michael bumps into Lolo in the school corridor on his way to confront Skin’s gang, Lolo has a moment of mental connection with him and she experiences his anger and power. Later, when James and Lolo call in to a local shop on their way home they are unaware that it has just been held up. When the police arrive they assume James is the criminal and wrestle him to the ground. Lolo is so angry she explodes with power forcing the officer to release her brother. The supernatural powers shock and scare Lolo and her brother tells her that their absent mother told him baby Lolo had energy flowing through her, "The Holy Current”. Lolo dismisses this as her mother was crazy, however Skin soon becomes aware of Lolo’s powers and wants to sign her up to his gang, using pressure on the family she loves. As Lolo learns to master her power and navigate the threats to her family she also has to deal with the expectations of school and friends. As she grows into her powers she learns to stand up for herself and others while making the right decisions. Her father’s high expectations and firm but kind upbringing see the family reach out to the less fortunate and withhold judgement while offering support.

There is enough violence and action to appeal to comic lovers and move the story on at a fast pace but it is always balanced by more thoughtful interactions. The strong colours and quality production make the most of Brittney Williams’ excellent graphic style with interestingly detailed urban backgrounds and settings with dark, menacing bad guys and consistent, well developed characters. Keys and Weiner offer teenagers a hardworking heroine finding her power in a difficult world, a good role model attractively packaged.

Themes: Identity, Family, Superpowers, Gang violence.

Sue Speck