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RILEY'S FIRE

by Lee Merrill Byrd
Not currently available.
$19.95


"Riveting...astonishingly uplifting."
One of the Top 10 Books of 2006!
People Magazine


Click here for the review.
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Product Details

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10-digit ISBN1-56512-497-9
13-digit ISBN9781565124974
FormatHardback
LanguageEnglish
Page Count272
Starred Review5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars - see reviews
RightsAll Rights Available
Riley Martin, an adventurous, inquisitive seven-year old boy, is the hero of this immensely satisfying novel set in the isolated universe of Galveston’s original Shriners Burns Institute. It’s here that Riley is being treated for third-degree burns over 63 percent of his face and body. It’s here that he and his parents meet the future—his and theirs.

But it’s Riley himself who charms and twists the reader’s heart—Riley, a child so compelling in his innate boyness that his presence transforms the setting, the circumstances, the pain, the loss, even the future.

By the last page, Riley has come to an indisputable understanding of what the rest of his life will be and how he will deal with it. He is one of those very rare beings who embody the human spirit in the act of transcending reality. His story is, above all else, a reward.
People Magazine 5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars
Riley Martin, the hero of this powerful first novel, is a second grader much like any other: He spills Wheaties on the rug, loves the plastic pool behind his house and scorns Sarah, a 6-year-old who has a crush on him. He also plays with matches, which is how he starts a fire that leaves him with third-degree burns on 63 percent of his body. Flown to Galveston’s Shriners Burns Institute, he spends months in a kind of purgatory where, along with his body, his soul undergoes a transformation. Though his mother, in particular, may never be able to accept his physical deformities, Riley comes to see why only his spiritual gifts matter.

Byrd, whose own sons were seriously burned in a playhouse fire at ages 4 and 7 in 1981, and who spent months by their bedsides at Shriners, injects a chilling authenticity into Riley’s story. She captures the kindly jokiness of the “tub men” who immerse him in warm water and pick off his dead skin. There are frightening talks among specialists and multiple surgeries followed by “days of absolutely forlorn recovery.” Against this backdrop of fear and pain, Byrd forges a riveting story that, in the end, is astonishingly uplifting.

People Magazine named Riley's Fire as on of the Top 10 Books of 2006! Click here for the review.
Library Journal
Riley Martin narrates this tale from Galveston’s Shriners Burns Institute, where he is being treated for third-degree burns over 63 percent of his body. His mother talks about the “accident,” but Riley knows it to have been his destiny, just as Sleeping Beauty was meant to have pricked her finger and fallen into a deep sleep.

Byrd does a beautiful job of inhabiting the mind of a seven-year-old boy who overhears adult conversations and reaches his own conclusions based on a simpler understanding. Readers will see the horror of the medical treatment Riley must undergo and his puzzlement at the concerns of his mother, so different from his own. They will also see boys from different socioeconomic groups forming new kinships based on a split-second event that irrevocably altered each of their lives, and they will see-through Riley’s eyes-the parents of these boys coming to terms with these events while passing judgment on one another for letting this tragedy befall their children. A beautiful, well-told story full of humor and pathos; recommended for public libraries.
Entertainment Weekly
Playing with gasoline and matches lands 7-year-old Riley Boyd in intensive care in a burn ward, swathed in gauze and ointment. His mother's and father's voices swirl above him, hazily at first, then with increasing clarity. He hears doctors discuss his prognosis as if he weren't there; he endures daily baths to soak off his charred skin. But Riley is a strong little boy, determined to live, determined to get out of his hospital bed; even the prospect of walking about town in his mask, without much of a face left, does not bother him. (Parents, rest assured: The descriptions of his injuries are in no way graphic or stomach-churning.) With grit and spunk, Riley comes to terms with his disfigurement (though his mother has not); his sturdy spirit suffuses this remarkable novel.
Recommended ages: 11 and up
Texas Monthly
Crafting a story about a seven-year-old burn victim is a risky move given the very good chances your novel will career into the maudlin and the morbid. Nevertheless, El Pasoan LEE MERRILL BYRD gives us RILEY’S FIRE and its rambunctious kid protagonist, Riley Martin, whose curiosity about matches and gasoline lands him in Galveston’s Shriners Burns Institute with third-degree burns over 63 percent of his body. He’s not doing so well at first, loaded up with painkillers and semiconscious; when he eventually reawakens, it’s into an alien world of scarred children and scared adults. Byrd’s approach is eloquent but plainspoken—no sensationalism or hysteria here.

Riley’s Fire is more than fiction for the author, whose own two young sons were Shriners patients after a playhouse fire. But time has been a crucible of sorts, crystallizing that experience into this singularly powerful book.
Abraham Verghese
—author of My Own Country and The Tennis Partner

"Riley's Fire is a beautifully observed narrative, looking out from the uncorrupted heart of a young boy whose flesh has been terribly burned. Byrd knows this territory so well that she has created an unforgettable world and brought about a healing that surpasses any cure. Riley's Fire is a triumph for both writer and character."
Rick DeMarinis
—author of Apocalypse Then and The year of the Zinc Penny

"A powerful excursion into the heartbreaking world of disfigured children. It is also a reminder of the always surprising resources of the human spirit. This is one of those rarities in contemporary literature —a book that needed to be written."
Southern Living
El Paso author Lee Merrill Byrd tells the story of Riley, a 7-year-old burn victim. We learn about his hospital stay in Galveston's Shriners Burn Institute and follow him through his progress (and setbacks) toward healing—all from his point of view.
Throughout his ordeal Riley’s mother and father stick close by, whispering memories about better days before he burned himself. His mother’s greatest hope is that doctors will be able to put him back together. Riley’s greatest hope is that he will once again lead the normal life of a kid—watching Superman movies and playing with his friends. In the end, Riley realizes that healing his outer scars represents only a small part of his new journey.
El Paso Times
"Byrd’s elegant and simple prose evokes more that it describes. There is both an intimacy and a distance in Byrd’s style that keeps the reader close—yet she never says too much. With a few carefully selected words, she suggests complex characters and situations that are very nearly overwhelming—but never overly dramatized...If this novel is about anything, it is about fire and grace. Fire is an apocalypse that destroys the world. But there is a new world in its aftermath. "
- Benjamin Alire Sáenz, El Paso Times, 
full review >>
Creative Loafing
Narrating Through the Pain
Character's voice rings true through the flame

With apologies to the author, I sincerely hope that Lifetime never makes a movie out of Lee Merrill Byrd's novel Riley's Fire. I know that the premise is just begging for a TV movie treatment, and with what I hear about what Hollywood types mean when they say they've "read" a book, they might entirely miss all that makes this novel a superb example of what literature can do when it's not trying to be cinematic.

Riley set the fire that burned 63 percent of his skin to a third-degree crisp, though Byrd spends almost no time on this most screen-pleasing of moments. And though we know there are times of great pain for the boy as he is "reconstructed" in a Galveston, TX, burn unit, Riley (as narrator) reports these episodes calmly and in the past tense. I suppose you could explain all this away as Byrd's reluctance to face the pain; her own sons were badly burned in a playhouse fire. But her unsentimental portrayals of Riley, his parents and the others in the hospital argue against this.
What matters to Byrd is the boy who remains beneath the burns, a once garrulous boy now hushed to a scorched whisper, a once emotive, sensitive boy who now wears his face like a soldier's mask, glad for the immolation of his softer self. "Now he was tougher than nails," Riley thinks the first time he sees his ruined face in a mirror, "like a dinosaur, like G.I. Joe, like the Bionic Man -- plastered all over with layers of shiny skin."

Through Riley's interior voice, Byrd has pulled off a fine bit of literary legerdemain, casually acknowledging the horrific spectacle while pulling our attention down to the boy beneath, seeing right through the burns with a kind of X-ray vision. (Riley's internal mythology is always that of a young boy's heroes and superheroes.) Riley's story is inspiring but never extravagant, lyrical but hard and real. In the end, we are left with only a dry, buried, most uncertain but nevertheless substantial and glowing hope that Riley's future will be a good one. Somehow, on the page, that is enough.
- Thomas Bell, 
El Paso Scene
The title character is an energetic 7-year-old who ends up in Galveston’s Shriners Burn Institute with third-degree burns on more than 60 percent of his body after playing with matches and gasoline. Byrd’s gentle, yet matter-of-fact writing style helps the reader to put this tragic event into a child’s perspective. Although the title character is fictional, the El Paso author’s base lies in her two sons, who were both burn victims treated at the institute. As someone who has seen the struggles Byrd’s sons faced as children, as well as the strong, wonderful adults they have grown into, I found this book an inspirational, albeit sometimes painful, read. However, for those who want to learn about the true inner strength of children facing physical and emotional pain, it is highly recommended.
- Lisa Kay Tate, 
Hodge-Podge Books
RILEY’S FIRE by Lee Merrill Byrd takes the reader into Galveston Shriners Burns Institute where Riley Martin, a seven year old adventurous and inquisitive boy, has been brought after being burned over 63 percent of his body and face. Riley interacts with other patients and visitors at the hospital. His trip to the final realization of what he has in store for him for the rest of his life makes for compelling reading. Most instrumental in this quest is his mother who has moved from El Paso, the hometown where the accident occurred, to Galveston so she can be present at his bedside daily. The book is almost as much about her journey as it is about Riley. The reader soon knows Riley will survive long after leaving the protected aura of the hospital. His mother, now that’s another issue. I realize this book is oriented to adults, but I feel many young adults could profit from spending time with Riley. The read is captivating; the journey frightening; take the trip. You will not regret the time.
- by Frank Hodge, 
Click here to view all the reviews

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Juanito Counts to Ten / Johnny cuenta hasta diez
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Lover Boy / Juanito el Cariñoso
by Lee Merrill Byrd
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