Today is a book review on Justine Laismith’s blog tour for Secrets of the Great Fire Tree. I ‘meet’ Justine on the GMGR Goodreads group, and I’m delighted to host her today. The tour organiser is Aurelia Leo.
Secrets of the Great Fire Tree
by Justine Laismith
In rural China during the New Year celebrations, Kai receives devastating news. A poor harvest spells disaster unless his mother accepts a job in the city caring for a wealthy family.
Abandoned in his mountainous village, Kai is desperate to bring his mother home. He gives in to superstition and unlocks the secrets of the Great Fire Tree. The Great Fire Tree will grant Kai’s wish—for a terrible price. With the help of his new friend Xinying and his trusted piglet, Kai will make a sacrifice to make his family whole.
Justine Laismith weaves together Chinese mystique and rural charm in an enchanting tale of an antidote that kills and an amulet that curses.
This is a charming story that does everything a good middle-grade book should do. It has a flawed central character, plunged into difficulties not of his own making; a friend who starts out not being a friend; several adults who leave him to his own devices; a loyal and friendly pig; distant hovering bad news, and encounters with danger both human and not. Oh, and maybe a bit of magic.
Secrets of the Great Fire Tree is also beautifully written. The descriptions of the mountains and the land they travel through brought the whole thing to life. It made for very easy reading. The smog of the cities was also beautifully described! I definitely felt I was there along with Kai. The whole book was a pleasure to read, refreshing even though early on I got a bit overwhelmed by the extended family. As you know, I don’t handle extended family well, let alone in books.
Kai fetched his basket. It was wide and deep enough that if he curled himself into a ball, he could fit in it. Two pieces of cloths were tied to it in a loop shoulder length apart, forming the shoulder straps for him to carry the basket on his back. Yee Por held the basket for him while he threaded his arms through.
With the bucket inside and Piglet on a rope, Kai descended toward the thick bushes. Down the mountain path and past the soft green that grew around the clearing to his favorite Dragon’s Pearl Tree, the tall tree with enormous fruit that went uneaten. To Kai, it was such a wasted effort; even more so last year when the tree tried to brighten up the dry season with heavy blossoms. They were unusual flowers; instead of branches, they stuck out directly from the trunk. But like any flower, the petals fell and produced its fruit.
“The birds would not eat them, so we mustn’t eat them either.” He remembered what Ma had said.
Every tree and every rock down that familiar path to the river reminded him of Ma, how he used to charge ahead with Pink Belly, whacking the bushes and frolicking in the clearing until Ma caught up with them.Today, he did not feel like playing with the new piglet in the same way.
He had always gone with Ma to fetch the water. She was stronger and carried the bigger bucket. He carried the smaller one. It only took fifteen liters.
Without Ma, the road back was windier and more treacherous. The burden of the water weighed him down as he lumbered upward. Thank goodness Piglet was only tiny and seemed to know how to handle the uneven terrain, grass or rock, upward or downward. He rested his tired legs and shoulders every few meters. But each time he stopped, he listened for voices. He did not want to be caught resting by the school bullies. Especially now he was on his own.
On one of these breaks, he heard a rustle. Then a pair of huge feet appeared on the path.
Justine Laismith is the winner of the Beyond Words: Young and Younger writing competition, who published her chapter book, The Magic Mixer. She grew up in Singapore and has worked in the UK pharmaceutical, chemicals, and education sectors. When not writing, she takes far too many pictures on her phone. She now lives in England.
For more information, visit www.justinelaismith.wordpress.com
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