Title: Firecracker Jones is on the Case
Author: Christopher Klim
Publisher: Hopewell Publications
Length: 116 Pages
Reviewer: Dian Moore
Firecracker Jones is on the Case is a multi-level adventure book that explores friendship, mystery and the jungles of high school.
Our hero, Francis Jones, (he hates that name) known by everyone as Firecracker, or just plain F., is a freshman in high school, and he’s funny and tells the story of how he solved the missing friend mystery.
F. was born on July 4, and you can guess where his nickname Firecracker comes from. He lives with his Mom, who is passionate about healthy eating—tofu and twigs being two of her favorites. F. has to also deal with being Attention Deficit Hearing Sensitive (ADHS), which translated, means he hears things most people don’t hear, and noises can drive him nuts. At home, he has yellow earmuffs to drown out such noisy beasts as the blender, a hammer being used and the vacuum cleaner
Best friend, Chub, is F.’s sidekick and he’s the perfect foil for F.’s wisecracks.
Another best friend, Ted, a sophomore football star, suddenly moves, and he doesn’t tell either of his friends why or where; and F. smells a mystery he’s determined to solve. If only to tell Ted how mad he is.
But F. and Chub find out something they never expected. Something terrible happened to their friend, and the family moved to keep it a secret. (You’ll have to read the book to find out what the terrible thing is).
Driven by his need to give Ted something special, F. dreams up a plan to "be" Ted and score the last touchdown of the season – the touchdown Ted needed to break the school record. Chub and a special girl help F. with the plan.
At times side-splittingly funny, Firecracker Jones tells a timeless story of drawing on one’s ingenuity, the importance of feelings and working them out, compassion, true friendship and self-sacrifice.
The quirky observations from Firecracker drew me into the story and held me captive until the last page, at which point I read it over again to enjoy the comments F. makes in the narrative, like, "Our kitchen looked like the cabinets got sick and threw up everything onto the countertops;" and "If those baked tree limbs…"
Life isn’t fair, but Klim manages to have this young hero learn this lesson without succumbing to a boiler-plate plot.
Firecracker is a kid I would have fell in love with in 9th grade – a little weird, a lot quirky, curious and brave, who despite all the problems of being between childhood and manhood, recognizes the importance of friendship and perseverance, and wears yellow earmuffs (at home, of course.)
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Interview with Christopher Klim, Author of Firecracker Jones is On the Case
Interviewed for FaithWriters’ Magazine by Dian Moore
FWM: How does a guy who worked on space program satellites suddenly decide to pursue not just writing, but writing books for young adults and teens?
KLIM: I grew up dyslexic before they knew what to call it. I couldn't read or write functionally before the 5th grade, but the stories piled up inside my head, mostly as pictures--scenes for stories. During my space program years, I used to work as a stringer--a freelance photojournalist. That's when the writing began in earnest, and when my first child was born, I stayed home to raise the kids and pursue my writing career. Today, I visit many elementary schools as a working author. I had FJ in the back of my mind, and when kids started bringing in my adult novels for me to sign, I thought that I'd better start writing that kids’ book.
FWM: Who is your inspiration for Firecracker Jones?
KLIM: My nine year-old son had been nagging me for years to read my adult novels. This has been a way for us to connect on a deeper level. I wanted to give him a story that he could read and made sense to him. Also, I was appalled by the material for juveniles--heavy duty themes of death, rape, murder.
FWM: I must ask: Have you tried the recipes that Firecracker's mother prepares in the book?
KLIM: I dated a holistic healer in college. I know of such culinary delights. Hmmm, does that sentence sound right? Anyway, she cooked up some pretty interesting food. I believe in healthy food, but I'm not sure man was meant to eat that way.
FWM: How long did it take from idea to final draft with this first book in the series; and what special challenges did you find along the way?
KLIM: FJ was the first book contract that I signed on a concept. I brought the cover drawing into the editorial meeting, with a rough idea. Books really don't get sold that way, and then panic set in. Months passed, and I hadn't written more than a few paragraphs, but the story evolved in the back of my mind. When I finally sat down to do it, I drafted the entire book during the month of November, and edited it for three months.
FWM: I'm excited to see that we'll be seeing more of Firecracker Jones. Do you have a set number of books planned for the series, and will our hero remain the same age or grow up in the process?
KLIM: There are at least three books planned, yet that's an interesting question. I can't imagine FJ growing up. I wanted a boy character who knows what it means to be a boy. In the US, the notion of "boy" is in crisis. I wanted to show the artfulness of boys. So for now, FJ remains the 9th grade detective, straddling childhood and adulthood in that mysterious time when everything is fresh and we see glimpses of who we'll become.
FWM: Which is more difficult to write: adult or young adult novels, and why?
KLIM: They are the same, except for the voice and vocabulary. We come into this world understanding stories. Watch any kid at story time, and they just seem to know what makes a good story. Adult fiction is a grownup version of the same principles we craved as kids, with more complicated adult themes in the mix. Stories are as vital to society as food and water. A good story holds a mirror to our lives; a great story can change our lives.
FWM: How do you decide on what mystery Firecracker will attempt to solve.
KLIM: As a dyslexic, I'm highly visual. I see the beginning of stories and know that this is where the story begins, and then I investigate what is happening and who's involved. In the first book, I knew that his best friend was missing and that he was very important to their community, but I didn't know why. In the second book--Firecracker Jones Gets Mad--someone throws a rock through his front window, and that's all that I want to say at the moment.
FWM: The additions of the drawings in the book fascinated me (I'm 42, so maybe I shouldn't be sharing this), but I'm delighted with this character and found myself believing that Firecracker is a flesh and blood person. What was your process in forming this well-drawn character, complete with his own drawings.
KLIM: It's serendipity. I'd doodled his picture in the margins of note pads since college, and I don't know why. When I went to my publisher to pitch my idea for FJ, I brought a mock-up of what would eventually become the cover. I never expected the pictures to last. I'd only sketched them as placeholders for the real artist to put them in place, and when my editor (and later the publishing board) looked at them, they appreciated the rawness of quick graphite sketches. I never expected them to say, "OK, let's use them." That wasn't my expectation.
FWM: Tell us about some of your other writing projects – what are you working on now?
KLIM: This is my most ambitious year as a writer. Not only am I editing a fledgling literary publication (Writers Notes Magazine), but I'll publish two books: Firecracker Jones and my latest adult novel, The Winners Circle, which is a pure comedy, a satire about lottery millionaires, the bittersweet story of a man who wins it all, loses the love of his life, and sets out to recapture her heart. While promoting these books, I plan to start the next FJ, the next mystery in the Boot Means series, and another novel that in itself requires more research than any previous project of mine. Whew!
FWM: In promoting Firecracker Jones, do you have any special stories to share?
KLIM: It hasn't hit the shelves yet, but a fifth grader picked up my book, read just the last page, and announced, "I don't get it." Kids.
FWM: Please add anything you would like readers and parents to know.
KLIM: I think we expect boys and girls to be too much like each other. Girls are determined and brilliant. They are excellent analysts. They are their own worst enemy at times, although their compassion and generosity knows no limits. On the other hand, there is an unconscious beauty to boys. This is why they often fly so high. They don't realize people are watching them. They don't even see the ground. At times, they are dangerous to themselves and others. They dare to succeed and often fail. We recognize this as courage. But when you take all of humanity into consideration, there is very little difference between men and women. Let's not be so quick to close the gap. The variety and verisimilitude among race, sex, and people in general is the essence of freedom.
FWM: Thank you for your time. I can't wait for the next book in the series.
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Readers, for more information on Christopher Klim, his other books, Firecracker Jones and writing, visit his website at http://www.ChristopherKlim.com. Links to much more are found on his site.
Dian Moore is a freelance writer, editor and reviewer and the hands behind Hands for Hope, www.handsforhope.com. If you would like to write to Dian, you can do so via the Letters page of this magazine.
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