The Arsonist
By Stephanie Oakes
Published by Penguin Young Readers Group
Age Range: 12+

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“A strange series of messages connects [Molly Mavity] with Ibrahim…Kuwaiti immigrant teen, and the diary of Ava Dreyman, an East German teenager who was murdered by the Stasi.”  —VOYA

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

At turns heart-racing, hilarious, and heartbreaking, The Arsonist is an intricate tapestry—of love, loss, and the mysterious connections between us all.

Reviews & Accolades
“Molly Mavity appreciates the freedom found in the lawless life of being the school weirdo. Her mother disappeared—Molly does not accept everyone else’s conclusion that she committed suicide—nearly five years ago, and, shortly after, her father was arrested for burning down a house with six people in it. Now she lives with her aunt Ro and mean-girl cousin Margaret, chafing under her new identity as a “child of trauma.” A strange series of messages connects her with Ibrahim, a.k.a. Pepper, a Kuwaiti immigrant teen, and the diary of Ava Dreyman, an East German teenager who was murdered by the Stasi. Together, Molly and Pepper search for Ava’s murderer, which Molly hopes will somehow lead her to her mother. Oakes’s suspenseful novel is told through three distinctive voices: Molly’s letters to a hospitalized Pepper, Pepper’s essays for his English teacher, and Ava’s diary—with the writing of each narrative taking place at different points in the story. Putting aside the questionable historical narrative of a single girl’s responsibility for the collapse of the Berlin Wall and East Germany, there is no doubt about the intensity and suspense that drives this story. Readers will eagerly chase every clue and strange coincidence along with Molly and Pepper. Readers who loved Code Name Verity (Hyperion, 2012/Voya April 2012) will inhale this similarly styled novel bursting with plot twists and intrigue.”

“Molly’s 17th summer does not have an auspicious beginning. With her foot in a cast after a run-in with a train and multiple surgeries, her father’s execution for committing arson scheduled in a few weeks, and her disbelief that her mother committed suicide three years ago, the teen decides that this is the summer to discover the truth about the enigmatic German dissident Ava Dreyman, whom she studied in school, and to find her mother. If Pepper Al-Yusef wants to graduate from high school, he must write a series of essays over the summer as well as deal with his epilepsy, his eccentric father, and Petra, the girl of his dreams. Molly receives a mysterious message that directs her to Pepper with the words, “He has all the answers,” and Pepper decides to join her in her quest. Their odyssey to resolve Molly’s questions results in Molly and Pepper learning truths about their family histories and mysteries—and a serious head injury that puts Pepper in a coma. Their stories are told through letters from Molly to Pepper as he lies in a coma, the essays Pepper writes so he can graduate, and Ava’s diary. The complex plot is fraught with unlikely coincidences; dangerous confrontations, lies and secrets, and leaps back and forth in time. The unique characters and compelling stories intertwine, sometimes seamlessly and sometimes awkwardly. The lengthy volume is a page-turner with frequent surprises and a little romance. Those willing to suspend disbelief will find this an exciting read.  A strong choice for suspense and thriller collections.”
School Library Journal

“Fire forges historical and contemporary connections among three troubled teens. The three teen narrators could easily star in their own books. Instead, their voices and lives intertwine in an implausible plot full of coincidences and conveniently chatty villains. Rebellious white redhead Molly Mavity writes sarcastic, tense-shifting letters to her friend Pepper, who lies in a coma. Molly, whose arsonist father will soon be executed, is convinced her mother is alive—despite her suicide. Ibrahim “Pepper” Al-Yusef, a Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy and a comic-relief seizure pug, wryly weaves his views on everything from friendship to racism into a series of essays assigned by a long-suffering teacher as a condition of graduation. Both gradually reveal how they followed a stranger’s clues to Berlin in search of Ava Dreyman, a teen from the former East Germany who became an Anne Frank-esque symbol for the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ava, whose diary of resisting the Stasi, escaping to America, and finding romance ends with her murder in 1989, connects Molly and Pepper in a far-flung way. Though Ava’s accounts of oppression are chilling, Pepper’s awkwardness is endearing, and Molly’s grief is brutal, the mastermind’s far-fetched scheme and Molly and Pepper’s improbable stunts in Berlin ultimately muffle the strong voices of all three characters. A convoluted mystery that flavors the darkness of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity (2012) with the contrivances of Scooby Doo.”
Kirkus Reviews

Groups Represented

Cross-Group Friendship
Family Death
Family Separation
Multicultural Friendship

United States

Engagement Projects & Resources
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