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Fire and Hemlock
Diana Wynne Jones
2012, 415 pages
While packing her books for her second year of college, Polly, a young woman from 1980s England, discovers that she has two sets of memories of growing up, and that these memories diverge at the moment when she gate-crashed a funeral on Halloween when she was 10 years old. There she met a young man, Tom Lynn, who helped her escape outdoors for some air, and joined her in creating a fantasy story of becoming heroes and performing mighty deeds. He continued to be her friend and an influential figure in one set of Polly’s memories, but is curiously absent from the other.
As Polly narrates her newly discovered life story, we see clues, rumors and hints of what happened to create her altered memories. She receives many gifts of books from Tom, who tells her that each story, even in fairy tales, contains an essential truth. But until she recovers her true memories and relates the entire tale of her youth, she is unable to see how these truths pertain to her personal history. First, she must, with a little help from her friends, come to an understanding of what she has experienced. Then an act of great courage on Polly’s part is required to reunite the strands, solve the mystery and save her friend Tom from a terrible fate.
Fire and Hemlock is a fantasy coming-of-age novel that can be read and appreciated by anyone who is able to read a novel. The language is straightforward enough for a middle school reader, and the story is so beautifully crafted that it will be admired by any adult. The library’s copy includes an essay by Diana Wynne Jones, “The Heroic Ideal – a Personal Odyssey,” which enriches the novel by explaining many of the sources – classical, medieval, renaissance and modern – which she used as inspiration for this brilliantly crafted novel.
Tricia Hutchins, Library Page