Jumper by Melanie Crowder
Release Date: June 21, 2022
Why I loved this book: Approximately 25 years ago, when I was a teenager, I saw my first article about smoke jumpers. I was ona road trip to Yellowstone and the idea of someone jumping out of a plane to fight fire was captivating. I was in Yellowstone shortly after the fire in 1988, I've seen how quickly a fire can rip through the wilderness, and the devestation that it leaves in its wake. I've also studied land management, attended innumerable ranger talks about how you have to do your best to prepare with controled burns and cleaning out the underbrush when you can, about why fire is actually good for the forest, and why you have to be ready to protect the buildings and people if the fire rages to close. To say I've been interested in wilderness fires for decades sounds odd, but there's something about how the fires move and especially the people who choose to step in front of them and try to contain them, is interesting. So when I saw this book up for review I knew I had to grab it if I could. Jumper didn't disappoint at all.
Focusing primarily on Bianca, a girl fresh out of high school who has dreamed of being a smoke jumper for what seems like her whole life, and due to several factors she is getting her chance way earlier then anticipated. Is she ready? yes. She has prepared forever, but she also has one giant thing that can hold her back, and that is her diabetes. It's hard to manage and she knows she can't disclose it to her trainers because they will send her packing, so while she knows mentally she can do this thing, she also knows that at any moment her body might betray her.
The story starts towards the end, we know immediately that something has gone horrible wrong. Bianca seems like she's had a close call with a fire, she's being interrograted about something, and she's both angry and sad... but at the outset we have no idea what's happened. This was a GREAT intro, in my mind I immediately began thinking about what I thought the issue was, all throughout the story I felt the pieces coming together as Bianca made her way through her smoke jumper training with her best friend Jason and the other Rookies. I felt like the story was leading us one way as she dealt with other recruits, her trainers, and her disease. And then... then I was wrong. Whatever I thought was going to happen to land Bianca covered in smoke, angry and being questioned, was not even close to what actually happened and the story is so much better for it.
I'm not going to give the twist away, but it works just right. It hits you in the gut and then sets you up for everything that comes in the last part of the book perfectly.
What I like best about this book is that you can tell how much research went into it to make it feel real. The author's note at the back makes it clear that while its highly unlikely a teenager would ever make smoke jumper, everything else about the training and things that the smoke jumpers experience has been researches so that those aspects of the story are spot on. I love research, truly, so I always appreciate when you can tell an author put the work in to really nail it. All that care makes it so easy to fall into the story and be invested in where Bianca is and where she's going. I would read 100 more books following Bianca as she becomes the smoke jumper she always wanted to be.
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