American Fire by Monica Hesse: A Book Review

Imagine living in a sleepy little town where everyone knows everybody.  The biggest employer is the chicken factory.  This area used to economically boom when trains were the main mode of transportation, but now many residents have left the area, and there are many abandoned houses.  One day an abandoned house burns down; hours later, another one does.  In six months, more than 60 houses, always abandoned, burn down.

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American Fire by Monica Hesse is about these fires and the couple responsible for them.

This book is approximately 240 pages long, and the first 100 pages deal with the six months when people thought eventually the whole area would be burned down by the arsonist.  The last 140 pages describe what happens when the arsonists are caught.

I’ll be honest, I slogged through the first 100 pages.  Some parts were interesting, but a lot of it was dry.  There were many, many details about fires and how they burn and how they are investigated.  However, I’m glad I stuck with it because I read the last 150 pages in 24 hours.

It was fascinating to read about the couple who set the fires.  Not only was it interesting to learn what motivated them, but also how one of them testified against the other and how in the end, one was sentenced for less time than the other.  I imagine being a resident of the area must have been exhausting while the fires were happening.  So many people were affected–the homeowners, the police, the firefighters, the dispatchers.  Yet, I get the feeling that the arsonists weren’t trying to necessarily be malicious.  The fires were just something to do.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.


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