I recently launched my new book, On Fire, at Victoria School. I felt it was the perfect place to launch a YA novel. Vic, as we used to call it is a school for students interested in the arts. Students there are great readers. They’re intelligent. Insightful. Tuned-in to the world of literature in ways that kids in traditional schools may not be. I’d worked with the principal years ago and know her well enough to ask. Also one of my former students is now a teacher there.

Still, none of those factors are the real reason I wanted to launch my book at Vic. I wanted to do it there because it’s the last school my son attended. I’d had hopes that the arts-focused program might be the answer for him. It wasn’t. I’ve seen working with drama, art and music turn life around for a lot of kids, but not my son.

Although we didn’t know what to call it then, he was already on a journey opposite to that of Dan, the protagonist in On Fire. Dan stumbled out of a wildfire area and asked for help. My son, once an honours student and an athlete had already begun his journey into the fire we call mental illness by the time he was seventeen. Any significant help he got was over fifteen years in coming.

I thought going back to his last school might help me put that part of our lives to rest. Maybe I even thought I’d see a glimpse of him as he was then and be able to appreciate how far he’s come. Or at least have a sense of his former presence. None of that happened.

I read to a group of polite, interested students. (They even turned off their cell phones.)It was all good.  They liked the book. We talked a little. We had healthy snacks. Then I went home.

My son tells me he’s let go of that time, and I’m glad he’s been able to. But I have to say that on certain days I still live with the smell of smoke.



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