When Giants Burn

by Beth Vrabel (Author)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

In this emotional and riveting middle grade novel that's The Misfits meets Hatchet, two unlikely friends fly off on an adventure they hope will set them free--only to learn the value of what they left behind.

Gerty has a secret: She's building an airplane. She wants to join the Civil Air Patrol, where pilots as young as twelve help with disaster relief--but she knows her parents would be outraged. They're survivalists who raised her to be independent and only enrolled her in middle school to show her why they've decided to opt out of society. Still, Gerty is determined to protect her beloved Pando, a nearby ancient aspen forest. Hayes has some problems of his own, but they aren't the kind that can be hidden under a tarp. His mom is back from prison, but he's not sure he'll ever stop missing the mom she used to be. One thing is certain: He's never going to be like her. He follows the rules. But Gerty is the only person at school Hayes doesn't hate, so after she tells him about her hidden plane, he helps her finish it.

When wildfires break out nearby, Gerty wants to fly to Pando and make sure it's safe--and Hayes is tempted by the chance to escape everything on the ground. But the duo will soon realize that they can't escape their roots--and that holding onto those connections might be the real key to survival.

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Kirkus Reviews

A heartwarming read with a powerful message: The lonely and jaded can heal with the love of an empathetic friend.

Publishers Weekly

Vrabel (Lies I Tell Myself) spins a poignant love letter to friendship and a harrowing survival tale in this gripping read. Neither Gerty nor Hayes, both white-cued sixth graders in Rabbit, Utah, think that their participation in their school guidance counselor's "safe space" lunches, meant to help them practice their social skills, is necessary. As their forced proximity blossoms into real friendship, however, Gerty shows Hayes her most prized and secret possession: an ultralight airplane she is building alone in her grandmother's barn. Hayes--who is adapting to life with his mother, recently released from prison, while navigating anxious thoughts about ending up alone--welcomes Gerty's friendship and is fascinated by her survivalist parents. When Gerty's family announces sudden plans to move off the grid, she and Hayes endeavor to pilot the ultralight at least once before their imminent separation. But the short, spontaneous trip quickly becomes a fight for their lives against injury, illness, forest fires, and unexpected criminal activity. Via Hayes and Gerty's riveting alternating narratives, Vrabel carefully unspools the history of each tween's personal trauma and interrogates the necessity of community and forgiveness in working through internal conflicts and surviving external challenges. Ages 8-12. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (June)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Beth Vrabel
Beth Vrabel is the award-winning author of more than a dozen middle grade novels, including To Tell You the Truth, Lies I Tell Myself, When Giants Burn, and Perry Homer Ruins Everything. She lives in Canton, Connecticut, with her family. Visit her at BethVrabel.com.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication date
June 20, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV039060 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Friendship
JUV013060 - Juvenile Fiction | Family | Parents
JUV001010 - Juvenile Fiction | Action & Adventure | Survival Stories
Library of Congress categories
Family life

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