Firecracker

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Firecracker Book Poster Image
Irrepressible girl learns to do good in fun, quirky novel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers who like quirky stories will page quickly through this book. Parents can use the questions in our "Explore, discuss, enjoy" section to help their kids think more analytically about the themes in Firecracker.

 

Positive Messages

Astrid learns that doing good things "wasn't always fun ... but when you did it enough, it was in your DNA. It became who you were."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The protagonist doesn't always do the right thing -- she has an arrest record, is expelled from school, pepper sprays a boy in the face, etc., but she has an irrepressible spirit, believes in herself. Ultimately, she learns to enjoy having people around, and the importance of doing good things. 

Violence

Astrid witnessed her brother's death from drowning when he was a small child. She sometimes acts violently, like pepper spraying a boy in the face or mashing a Twinkie into a girl's hair, but she claims her bullying only targets bullies, not the weak. There's a fight between two boys that ends in some blood. Someone sets a school chapel on fire.

Sex

Astrid admits to sometimes kissing "because she wanted something" and suspects the mean girls at school "traded in a trip or seven to second base" to make sure she didn't become Homecoming queen. She also reveals that her sister's boyfriend once snuck into her bedroom (she ended up chopping his hair with scissors to get him to leave). Her sister lives with her fiance before marrying him. Astrid later shares a kiss with a boy she likes.

Language

Two instances of "f--k," plus  a smattering of  "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch,"  "crap," and "damn."

Consumerism

A few brands, such as Everclear, Twinkie, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Vespa.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Astrid's private school nemesis is drunk one night, a boy says the punch at a school dance is spiked with Everclear, and teens smoke at Homecoming. Astrid's mother also secretly smokes, and her grandfather teaches her to make an Old Fashion. Later she reveals he said, "This glass of whiskey is just about the only thing worthwhile in the entire world." The dean at her private school has a son who lost an arm in a meth explosion.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that quirky Firecracker features some mature material, including a protagonist who's expelled from school for cheating, pepper-sprays a bully in the face, and admits to sometimes kissing "because she wanted something." There's also some swearing (two instances of "f--k," a smattering of  "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch,"  "crap," "damn"), drinking, and cigarette smoking. Because all of this is set in a rather far-fetched environment (think Wes Anderson movie), none of these details feels as troubling as it would in a more realistic setting. There's one exception: When Astrid talks about losing a brother when he drowned as a small child. Over the course of the book, Astrid learns to enjoy having people around, and the importance of doing good things.

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What's the story?

Astrid has always been a troublemaker, but when the rich girl is kicked out of a prestigious boarding school for cheating, she finds herself on the outs at a tough public school where her only friends are a geeky boy named Noah and a girl who sucks her own hair. But when Astrid accepts her former dean's challenge -- to do three good things in order to return to boarding school -- she finds herself (and her desires) changing.

Is it any good?

FIRECRACKER is a quirky book filled with all kinds of fun details. Super-rich Astrid sleeps in an actual rocket hidden on her mansion's property, for example -- the same property where her grandfather, a senator involved in the defense industry, had his pool made in the shape of his own kidney (the same kidney in which JFK once shot him).

But underneath all the goofiness, Astrid is dealing with some real stuff: Her beloved kid brother died right in front of her years ago, for example, and now the grandfather whom she always wanted to be like seems to be rejecting her. Plus, the power she is used to wielding among her peers initially vanishes when she transfers to public school. Readers will race through this often hilarious book, but will hopefully slow down enough to understand the very real lessons Astrid is learning about the difference between being a great person and a good one.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about books with rich narrators. Can you think of other stories that feature "poor little rich girls"? What's appealing about this kind of story?

  • Also, Astrid learns that doing good things "wasn't always fun ... but when you did it enough, it was in your DNA. It became who you were." Do you agree with her analysis?

  • Finally, Astrid stands up and fights bullies, while Noah tries to ignore them. Who has more success in the story? What do you think is a better strategy?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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