Some books leave you feeling better about the world and the people in it. Either because their main message is that of love, hope, and forgiveness, or because they have amazing characters: strong, calm, caring. They put your feet a bit more firmly on the ground, because you recognize they are rooted in reality, and uplift you, help you raise your head and notice that, despite everpresent tragedy and suffering, our world is full of beautiful souls, ready to lend a helping hand.
This is one of these books…
26-year-old Cassie Hanwell is a person you would like to have next to you in an emergency. She doesn’t get scared (and if she does, she continues doing her job), she never panics– in fact, the opposite happens, when everybody else is freaking out, she gets calmer and more alert. Above all, Cassie lives to help and save other people. All of this makes her one hell of a firefighter. One of the best and she knows it.
That’s why I didn’t wind up an ER doc. You don’t want me just after the emergency. You want me during the emergency. I am at my very best when things are at their very worst.
When Cassie commits a potential career suicide by standing up for herself in front of a hundred person crowd during an award-giving ceremony, she is given a choice: apologize to the despicable politician she had this very public ‘interpersonal conflict’ with and get a deserved promotion to a lieutenant or have her contract with Austin Fire Department terminated. Only she can’t do either of these things. Her job is ‘her whole identity’. Cassie finds a third option – move to Rockport, near Boston to help her half-blind estranged mother with groceries and house chores, find a temporary position in a firehouse near her mother’s house and, slowly, work her way up again. Her captain puts in a good word for her leaving until the very end ‘the bad news’ of Cassie being a woman. The new boss is desperate for anybody to fill the position, although he has a deep mistrust female-firefighters and won’t make it easy for Cassie to start it all over at the new place. Cassie’s brave and wise captain, knowing that Cassie has always been welcome and eased in all her firefighting jobs so far and doesn’t know what discrimination and hostility are, gives a few pieces of advice:
No makeup, perfume or lady-scented deodorant, no jewelry. Cut your hair off-or keep it back. Make them less aware you’re a girl whenever possible. If you make eye contact, make it straight on, like a predator. Don’t ask questions. Go above and beyond at every chance. Don’t ever act afraid. Don’t ever hesitate. Don’t ever admit it when you don’t understand- figure it out like a man. If you go up against anybody, make sure to win. No fear! If your hands start shaking, sit on them. Never admit to being hurt. Pain is for the weak.
They will ignore you. They will exclude you. They will resent you. Working hard won’t matter. Just by your very presence there, you are attacking them, trying to steal something that’s rightfully theirs, trying to infiltrate and dismantle their brotherhood.
Don’t have feelings. Don’t talk about them, don’t explore them, and for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t cry…Do not sleep with firefighters. Because there’s no faster way for you to go down in flames than to screw one of the guys.
My best advice to you ? Find one person you can count on. Just one.
Cassie is going to follow every single point on this long list, but for one. Unexpectedly for her, she is going to find that after years and years of loneliness and thinking that love was for the weak, she did need human connection, however much gutwrenching courage it took.
She gradually re-establishes and re-defines her relationship with Diana, her mother, and finds out that not everything she believed about her mother abandoning Cassie and her Dad was true.
By the time we reached each other, the resentment I’d been feeling had mixed with so many other feelings and impulses- sorrow, regret, loneliness, protectiveness, admiration, affection- that it became something else completely. Complicated.
Diana teaches her something extremely valuable, something that will help Cassie not only survive but actually live- forgiveness. I have to give Cassie credit. It isn’t easy, and a lot of people would just close their mind to these words, and never face the hard task of trying to forgive your own gullible, naive 16-year-old self. Cassie does try the three steps, described by her mother: acknowledge to yourself that someone hurt you and accept that. Accept that the person who hurt you is flawed, and try to understand them better. Look at what happened afterward and find the positive things that came about, not just the hurt. Yes, you can laugh at Cassie’s reply that the upside of her abandonment (and the other tragedy that happened on the same day) was getting freakishly good at basketball.
But the truth is what happened that Cassie became herself: calm, professional, attuned to other people, good at seeing what is true and what is fake, being able to stand up for herself and others, good at learning from whatever life threw at her. Also, knowing when to risk everything because the person you are risking it for is worth it. Like the Rookie, Owen Callaghan, her amazingly good-looking, smiley, kind-hearted, forbidden crush, her road to learning what true courage is.
Telling you more would be giving the story away, and I don’t want to rob you of this heartwarming experience. You probably know by now that I’m in love with the author’s ability to create strong, complex, believable characters. I’m also in love with her writing style and sense of humor. Anybody who can give their lead character a childhood ambition of becoming the Tooth Fairy deserves a special mention. That and making a seasoned firefighter join a Crotchet Club…
There’s also wonderful storytelling– there are twists and turns that will tug at your heartstrings, as well as other calmer scenes that show the stuff everyday life is made of. My favorite ones show the firefighters both at work and rest, including practical jokes well-meaning colleagues played on Cassie and the Rookie. I loved the way Cassie acknowledge the differences between her progressive, well-equipped firehouse in Austin and the new situation, and quietly set out to find a way to improve it, including getting super-expensive cyanide antidote kits. If it was a fantasy book, I’d give it five stars for the worldbuilding. As it isn’t, I’ll just acknowledge how fascinating it was to get a glimpse into what living this kind of life would be.
I loved every minute of this book and was sorry to turn the last page. A wonderful, humorous story of love and forgiveness with a strong and endearing main lead, ‘Things you save in a fire’ is a book you won’t forget.
Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
‘Things you save in a fire’ by Katherine Center is out on the 13th of August 2019.
- Have you read Things that You Save in a Fire or is it on your tbr? If you have read it, what did you think of the ending? Did you like Diana?
- Have you read any other books by Katherine Center? This is my first one, and I would appreciate your recommendations