Paradise on Fire


By Jewell Parker Rhodes

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$22.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 14, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

From award-winning and bestselling author Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age survival tale exploring issues of race, class, and climate change.​
Addy is haunted by the tragic fire that killed her parents, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother. Years later, Addy’s grandmother has enrolled her in a summer wilderness program. There, Addy joins five other Black city kids—each with their own troubles—to spend a summer out west.
Deep in the forest the kids learn new (and to them) strange skills: camping, hiking, rock climbing, and how to start and safely put out campfires. Most important, they learn to depend upon each other for companionship and survival. 
But then comes a devastating forest fire…
Addy is face-to-face with her destiny and haunting past. Developing her courage and resiliency against the raging fire, it’s up to Addy to lead her friends to safety. Not all are saved. But remembering her origins and grandmother’s teachings, she’s able to use street smarts, wilderness skills, and her spiritual intuition to survive.

BCALA 2021 Best of the Best Book
A Cadmus Children’s Fiction Award for the Green Earth Book Award winner


“There’s always a way out,” Grandma Bibi whispers. “Use your mind, your heart.” Her arthritic fingers poke my chest.

Closing my eyes, I smell her red bush tea, the shea butter she rubs on her skin. Her spirit is alive, urgent.

But Grandma Bibi isn’t here.

Here is a packed airplane. The plane is leveling off, engines murmuring steadily. Two bells. The seat belt sign blinks off. We’re flying high.

I grab my pencil and notepad from my backpack and draw. I remember the flight attendant, walking the aisle, pointing at emergency exit doors.

I quickly sketch row after row. (I block the front exit with an X.) The closest exits are ahead of me. Row 18. Exits on the left and right. These are my escape doors.

If the plane falls, drops through the sky, I need to rush from row 23 to row 18. I’m in the window seat. I need to get past the two kids sitting on my right. Should I go forward or back? If the aisle is packed, then what? Retreat to my seat? Cling, swing, window shade to window shade to safety? Climb over seats? What’s the best path?

I underline ESCAPE three times.

“What’s that?”

I roll my eyes. Press my pencil, snapping the lead. My new line is blurred, crooked. Blocking the path.

“I’m Jay,” says the boy next to me. “Jay from Brooklyn.”

Jay has a high-top fade with precision cuts on the sides. His brows bushy, his eyes brown, he’s the cocky know-it-all type.

He doesn’t know me. I keep drawing, mapping space, mirroring row upon row. Sketching arrows, leading to possible paths out.

“It’s a maze, isn’t it?” asks the girl in the aisle seat. “Where you have to figure a way in? Or out.”

“Nope.” I flip a page and quickly sketch. “This is a maze.”

ESCAPE is in the center. Around it, like it’s a magical, hidden door, I twist and turn the seats, creating false starts, incomplete paths.

Even though Jay and the girl are watching me, I can tell I’m confusing them.

Broken lines. Dead ends. Incomplete openings. That’s what a maze does. Disrupts progress, confuses direction. Complicates.

“Hey, I used to have a book of mazes.” The girl reaches past Jay, takes my pencil, and tries to solve the puzzle.

“Wrong way,” Jay says excitedly. “Go left.”

She hits a dead end. Again and again.

“Let me try.”

Jay’s blocked, too.

The girl grabs the pencil, focusing, drawing the line in fits and starts.

She’s trying hard. Intense eyes. Black braids. Her teeth scratch at her bottom lip.

“Show us,” she pleads.

Like always, I solve the puzzle first in my mind. Then I move the pencil forward, zigzagging, no back turns, until I reach EXIT.

“Wow. You’re good.”

“How’d you do that?” asks Jay, surprised.

“There’s a trick to it.” It’s easier to solve a maze from EXIT back to START.

(Besides, when you make the maze, you always win. You control the view.)

The girl extends her hand in front of and across Jay’s belly.

“Jersey City,” she says. “I’m from Jersey. Nessa for Vanessa.”

I blink, saying nothing. I’m not used to kids reaching out to be friends with me.

I shake Nessa’s hand. Jay’s, too.

We’re sitting in the back, behind the plane’s wings. Seats A, B, C, D, E, F—all filled with Black kids. We’re supposed to bond. Be friends.

I want to return to the Bronx. To Bibi. But she made me go.

“To know yourself, you need to journey, Adaugo. Remember what’s forgotten.”

I love Grandma Bibi. Whatever she wants, I try to do.

“That’s Kelvin, A’Leia, and DeShon.” Nessa, the “social one,” points across the aisle.

Kelvin and A’Leia wave.

“They’re from Philly.”

DeShon, eyes closed, not taking off his headphones, bobs his head, slapping his thigh to a beat.

Nessa frowns. “He doesn’t talk much.”

“You talk enough for everyone,” Jay teases.

Nessa sticks out her tongue.

Kelvin and A’Leia wear glasses. A’Leia’s are thick with black trim; Kelvin’s glasses are thin purple squares. A’Leia wears an oversized varsity jacket. Basketball, I think. Jay wears orange track shoes and a T-shirt: JUST DO IT. Nessa wears color-coordinated pink leggings and a skirt. Kelvin and DeShon wear black T-shirts and jeans.

Ordinary kids—smiling, chatting, laughing. They’re not alert, scanning the plane, watching close when people clog the aisle. They’re different than me. Relaxed. They fit in.

Maybe Kelvin, A’Leia, Jay, Nessa, and DeShon wanted to go to California? Universal Studios, beaches, movie stars. Los Angeles Lakers.

Maybe they were forced?

Nope. Get real.

They probably thought, Ooooo, a plane ride. An adventure. And it’s FREE.

What’s not to like?

No hot, city boredom. No same old, same old.

Still, I like sitting on the apartment’s front steps, watching kids play pickup, double Dutch. I even like listening to the girls gossiping about who’s cute, who’s not. Even though they don’t include me, they don’t mind me knowing who has a crush on Jermaine. They don’t mind braiding hair, painting nails, while I sit one step behind them, drawing maps, studying mazes. They notice I’m different. Being an orphan is like being a crusted-over scab. Leave me alone. Don’t touch.

I stare out the window. Pancake clouds float. Mountain clouds burst, scatter as the plane flies through them. Seeing the open air unnerves me, reminds me of something—what?

My heart races. I slam the shade down.

I look at my escape map, then lean forward, lifting from the seat pocket the laminated safety card. “Did you study this?”

Jay shrugs, acting cool. “Nothing’s going to happen.”

Like me, I think this is Jay’s first time flying. Probably like all of us.

“If something happens, I’ll follow you,” says Nessa, giggling. “What’s your name?”

I don’t want to say. Saying my name means I’m really here. Means this trip is real. I’m long gone. Far from home. Flying cross-country to Los Angeles. Six hours, 1,543 miles.

“Fate. No deny, Adaugo.” The memory of Bibi’s voice rattles me. “Daughter of an eagle. You must go.”

I swallow. Funny, I draw maps but I don’t travel.

Nessa watches me. Not mean, just curious.

“Addy,” I say. “My name is Addy.”

Jay’s brows lift.

Nessa exclaims, “Pretty. Nice name.”

In front of us, camp counselor Jamie, a blond girl, stands, turns. “Are we having fun yet?”

Across the aisle, lanky, curly-haired Dylan, his finger stabbing the air, talks down at Kelvin, A’Leia, and DeShon. DeShon ignores him. Kelvin and A’Leia, intent, listen closely.

Jamie and Dylan are college students, camp counselors teaching in a summer program: Wilderness Adventures.

We’re a special charity. Black city kids going west. Jamie and Dylan are going to show us how to live. How to be cowboys. Cowgirls.

I wonder: How come I can’t show them how I live in New York, the Bronx?

Jamie has a happy smile. It bugs me. Happy people always bug me.

“If the plane starts falling, you going to lead us out?” I demand.

Jamie’s smile slides off her face. “The plane isn’t going to fall.”

“But if it does. Are you responsible for us?”

Jamie blinks like she doesn’t understand.

“In an emergency. Are you responsible for us in an emergency? Like a teacher?”

Me, Jay, and Nessa—we all stare.

Jamie, red-faced, answers, “Of course I am.” Then she twists, slumps in her seat.

I’m disgusted. I stare at my map. Many pathways. But only one path that’s best for escape.

Jay leans, whispers in my ear, “Not sure anyone survives a plane crash.”

I don’t look at him. “I will.”

Then I roll my sweater into a makeshift pillow and close my eyes. I don’t open them when the attendant asks, “Drinks? Water? Coke?”

I breathe evenly, pretending sleep as Jay and Nessa munch on peanuts, pretzels. Jay shifts and I squint, watching him lift the safety guide from the seat. He studies it, his head bent, his finger drawing a path like I drew lines on my maze.

Maybe Jay isn’t so bad after all?

I sigh and widen my eyes a bit, seeing Nessa slyly studying me. She’s smart, too, I think.

I go back to pretending sleep.

I remember Bibi, at the airport, hugging me, murmuring, “You’re always journeying whether you like it or not.”

I try to relax. My hands rest on my pocket where my map is tucked inside.

No matter what: Escape. Survive.

“Why couldn’t we stay in LA? It’s boring driving these freeways.”

“What part of wilderness adventure don’t you understand?” Jay exclaims, scowling at Kelvin.

DeShon is still listening to his music, his head nodding, jerking. A’Leia is trying to text. The signal keeps getting lost.

It’s hard to stay awake in the too-warm van. Jamie, Dylan, and the driver are in the front row, soaking up the air-conditioning. Us kids are roasting in the back.

Nessa, twirling a braid, stares out the window at the speeding cars. Fourteen-lane highways. “Unbelievable,” she mutters. “They need subways.”

“Monorails like Disneyland,” insists Kelvin.

“Or an L, elevated trains like in Chicago,” Jay tells a skeptical Kelvin. “I’ve seen photos.”

“I’ve never been to Chicago,” responds Kelvin. “Never been anywhere but Philly and here.”

“Me either,” says Nessa. “Except it’s New Jersey and here.”

I don’t add “Me either,” though it’s true. Though “here” isn’t anywhere yet… just a map of packed concrete highways crisscrossing overhead, curving, making figure eights. Snake twists. The patterns are amazing.

Many roads to get in, get out. Our van chooses the right ramp. I’m keeping track of where we’ve been. Arrow back to LA. The airport. Fly home.

“Say goodbye to civilization,” says Dylan, pointing right. The van slows.

Outside the window, it’s like an old-time postcard. Maybe thirty single-story homes, mostly painted white, and mobile homes (which I’ve never seen before!). There’re a couple of roads. Some flower gardens. Chickens. A couple of horses.

A boy—maybe eight?—runs toward the road. He’s waving, a big smile on his face. A’Leia and Nessa “Oooo” and wave back.

The van pulls farther away. I twist in my seat, looking out the back window. The boy still stands by the side of the road, arms dangling. Distance makes him disappear.

“Any Black people live in that town?” asks Kelvin.

A’Leia pokes him.

“Ow, I’m just trying to figure out how different this place is from home.”

“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” I say.

“Kansas?” Kelvin squints behind his glasses. “What’s that mean?”

“Nothing,” adds Jay. “Just another place we’ve never been.”

“What does it matter?” asks Nessa, exasperated.

I’m not sure what Nessa means—it doesn’t matter if the town is all white? Or that we haven’t been anywhere?

“Dorothy lives in Kansas,” A’Leia murmurs. “Wizard of Oz.

For hours, we drive. No one says anything. The air conditioner blows. The engine hums, sometimes whines.

Roads become less wide, less complicated. Two lanes up over rolling hills or down. Hills become bigger hills, then mountains. One mountain we tunnel through; I’m anxious in the long darkness. Only forward and back in a tunnel. No side exits.

I exhale once I see the light-filled blue sky. The open road.

Driving, driving, driving some more. There are few cars, mostly semitrucks carrying new cars, oil, and logs. The radio plays static.

Buildings have shrunk and disappeared. Huge Christmas-like trees pierce the sky. At their roots, there’s wilted, crackling scrub, dry bushes.

“Why’s everything brown?”

“Drought,” says the driver. His blue eyes crinkle, looking back at me through the rearview mirror. “When you map, you’ve got to note the landscape, too. Might save your life.”

How’d he know I was mapping?

“She’s drawing mazes,” pipes Nessa, blinking sleepy eyes.

“Map. Maze. What’s the difference?” Kelvin asks.

“A maze is like a map,” answers Jamie, turning around in her seat. “Both give a bird’s-eye view. But maps can be simpler—from here to there. A maze is a puzzle. It’s not always clear which path is best.”

“Isn’t that true for maps?” asks Jay, sitting beside me.

“No, the most useful maps are grounded in reality. Mazes can be real, too. Made from hedges in a garden. Mostly, though, they’re artificial, imaginary.”

“Don’t forget, maps can have streams, valleys, mountains,” calls the driver. “Topography. It keeps you from getting lost.”

Topography. No one wants to admit they don’t know what it means.

“Leo’s razzing you,” laughs Jamie. “You’ll find out about it when we go hiking. Ridges, valleys, altitudes. Won’t she, Dylan?”

“Maybe,” answers Dylan, not looking back. “Not everybody is good in the outdoors.”

Jay tenses, defensive.

I wonder: How do you show altitude on a flat map?

In the rearview mirror, Leo winks at me. “This is a talented group.”

“The best,” says Jamie, cheerful.

Dylan mutters. (The windshield swallows his words.)

Nessa taps Jay’s clasped hands. She smiles; he relaxes.

I flip through my notebook. For the Bronx, I’ve got all kinds of maps. Streets and corners. How to get in, get out. Left, straight, right. But the Bronx doesn’t have this rough terrain, these concrete roads and rolling hills.

Pressing my face closer to the window, I’m not sure where we’re going. It bothers me.

Clouds fade; the sun is setting. The sky is so big.

I never knew there were so many trees. The Bronx is all buildings. Telephone wires. Streetlights. Signs. And people—thousands and thousands of people.

Now I feel like I’m disappearing into a horror movie. All the people have vanished. Replaced by monster trees.

Leo revs the engine. He’s older than Jamie and Dylan—like he could be their dad. Maybe granddad?

If Bibi were here, she’d say, “Mr. Leo. Call your elders mister. Or ma’am.”

Yet with his rolled-up plaid sleeves, gray hair, and beard, Mr. Leo seems just Leo. More relaxed than grown-ups in the Bronx. Jamie and Dylan smile at him like he’s their friend. Leo looks like a neighbor man who remembers every kid’s birthday and dresses up like Santa for the Salvation Army.

The van purrs, rumbles. Sunlight bakes us. Everyone dozes. Dylan slumps against the window. Jamie slumps against him. Jay’s head tilts straight back. Even DeShon is sound asleep, though his headset still buzzes. Nessa and A’Leia, bodies twisted, hands tucked beneath their heads, are slightly smiling while they’re dreaming.

I don’t sleep. Only Leo and I are awake. From time to time, he looks back at me. His eyes, with arching thick brows above, study me. (Like Nessa did on the plane.)

It’s like he can tell I’m different.

I can’t shake the feeling that Leo knows something about me that I don’t know.

Odd. He’s waiting for me to reveal—what?

More oddly, Leo reminds me of Bibi. Both of them watching, waiting for me to do something I can’t even dream about.

Like I’ve got magic buried inside me.

I shiver.

Maybe I do?


  • Praise for Jewell Parker Rhodes

    Winner of the 2022 Green Earth Book Award
  • *"A powerful work and must-have for children's collections."—Booklist, starred review
  • "Placing biracial boyhood and the struggles of colorism at its center, the novel challenges readers to pursue their own self-definition."—Kirkus
  • *"An excellent selection for both elementary and middle library collections, this is a title that celebrates finding one's place in the world."—School Library Connection, starred review
  • "Donte's story is a good primer for younger readers on microaggressions."—School Library Journal
  • "A classic sports story."—BCCB
  • "This novel offers a solid story, with relatable, three-dimensional characters considering identity, that will teach readers about colorism's effects."
    Publishers Weekly
  • “The book is sparsely written, poetic in its style. Despite the destruction, the narrative is fundamentally optimistic, rooted in the power of nature and community to bring us back to ourselves when we fear all is lost.” —The Los Angeles Times
  • " exciting page-turner."—School Library Connection
  • "This page-turning tale is not to be missed."—B&N Reads
  • "Lyrical in tone, the first-person narration brings home Addy’s love of nature as well as her urgency to protect it."—Horn Book
  • "Paradise on Fire is a brilliant melding of captivating storytelling and crucial teaching moments."—Shelf Awareness
  • "People of color have not historically featured in wilderness stories, which makes this title refreshing, especially in light of national conversations around racial equity in outdoor spaces. A strong read-alike for Gary Paulsen fans or older kids who have graduated from the I Survived series but are still seeking a thrilling survival story."
  • "Addy is a heroine any reader might aspire to be, a teenager who learns to trust her own voice and instincts, who realizes that fire can live within someone, too."New York Times
  • " Jewell Parker Rhodes movingly depicts how a girl, orphaned by fire, develops an intense situational awareness that turns into a love of maze- and map-making."—Bloomberg
  • "Readers will love the mix of suspense, action, and emotion in this book.”—Time for Kids
  • "...simply a brilliant book"Bloomberg

On Sale
Sep 14, 2021
Page Count
256 pages

Jewell Parker Rhodes

About the Author

Jewell Parker Rhodes is the author of Ninth Ward, winner of a Coretta Scott King Honor; Sugar, winner of the Jane Addams Children's Book Award; and the New York Times-bestselling Ghost Boys; as well as Bayou Magic; Towers Falling; Black Brother, Black Brother; and Paradise on Fire. She has written many award-novels for adults, including, MAGIC CITY, a novel about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Jewell is the Virginia G. Piper Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

Learn more about this author