Things You Save in a Fire; Katherine Center

Things You Save in a Fire; Katherine Center
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 310
Published: 2019
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Hufflepuff, Gryffindor

Cassie was made to fight fires. It’s her life. She does her job and moves on to the next, being the tough girl that she is.

When disaster strikes at her Texas firehouse, Cassie finds herself packing her bags and moving in with her mother on the East Coast–the mother who abandoned her on her sixteenth birthday. The firehouse that she joins is an old-school boys club and nobody is to thrilled to have a female firefighter join the ranks.

Until another rookie shows up. He’s handsome and crushworthy, two things that Cassie has sworn would never sway her. After all, love is for girls. And Cassie is a firefighter. But as time goes on and the two must learn to work with one another, Cassie will have to learn how to deal with those strange things called feelings.

Things You Save in a Fire is a novel that bookstagram and the blog universe have been talking about considerably. Firefighters? That’s a group I’ve never read about before. Romance? Hmm, possibly interesting. Fair warning, though: there are elements of click-lit novels, but there are equal parts of toughness, making for a certainly unique read. But is it truly a romance?

This novel changes the chick-lit narrative by inserting a tough-as-nails heroine, Cassie. This, I liked. It was a nice change from the ditzy magazine writer types I usually see. After standing up to her rapist back home, and forfeiting a promotion, she goes to live with her mom in Massachusetts, becoming a firefighter in what is known as a boys’ club. She was well-developed as a character and had a personality all her own. If she had a flaw, I didn’t care for how she believes that anything girly is bad…just like her captain, who warns her of all sorts of bad man behavior that don’t happen as often as Cassie thinks. This is not the kind of feminism I like to see. I appreciate Center wanting to take a feminist angle, but “only being tough, you know, like a traditional man” isn’t really the way to go about it. Some of the male behavior is pretty corny, too. They make kitchen jokes and talk down to Cassie and all kinds of trite things that misogynistic caricatures do. Speaking of which…

When this book has something it wants to say, either about feminism or forgiveness, it tells you. It’s definitely prevalent–Cassie has to forgive her mother, other firefighters, a rapist, and more. But this novel doesn’t send a subtle message when it says something. It whacks you over the head with a baseball bat. Repeatedly. This was probably the biggest issue I had with the book: it’s preachy. Near the end especially, it gets so heavy on forgiveness–Cassie launches into full-blown speeches about it–that I think it forgets to give Cassie and her coworkers and Owen enough screen time, because it’s so busy getting deep about forgiveness and why women don’t come forward after rape and finding justice and who knows what other things that weren’t all necessarily central to the story. I wonder if it tried to take on too many subjects, between Cassie’s estranged mother and her past and the firehouse drama. If this was truly a romance, I think that more time between Owen and Cassie was necessary. But it often skips over these scenes to go right to the philosophy. These messages are definitely worth thinking about. However, they took up too much time that should have been devoted to Cassie and Owen. I felt like a lot of their relationship was summarized. In fact, I’m almost hesitant to call this a romance because it could be much more in-depth than it was.

Nevertheless, I did like her. As was true for the other characters. Despite the firemen not always treating Cassie respectfully, I had the sense that there was more going on beneath the surface. Diana, her mom, I wanted to dislike and shared Cassie’s stubborn streak when it came to looking at her, until I realized there was more going on there, too. Both tough feminists and romance lovers will find something to like here. On the other hand, will both groups end up disliking the other half of the novel that doesn’t cater to them because it’s so jarring?

Let’s talk about that. The firefighting parts are full of toughness and excitement. The parts with Cassie visiting her mom turn into Hallmark shmaltz. These parts are so different from the other that to move from one scene to another can be jarring. However, I was fine with this, as I do like both. It’s hard to think of a target audience for this book, though. Is it for middle-aged woman who love a Macomber novel and a cup of tea? Is it for radical feminists? Truthfully it appeals to sides of both, maybe to say that the two can run together. Cassie, too, ultimately learns to embrace her emotions, even if these parts are overshadowed by philosophical thoughts on what it means to forgive. Don’t look at it as just a romance, though, because there are plenty of things going on here–maybe too much, as the book seems rushed in places. I often found myself wanting to know just a little bit more–about characters, about a scene that wasn’t included, about the rookie Owen, etc. Additionally, I feel like a lot of characters were extremely quick to make amends and forgive and forget. The bad guys suddenly become great guys. I appreciate that that’s a major theme in the book, but it seems like the author went for the wish-fulfillment resolutions that were too good to be true.

It’s definitely a unique take on romance and different from your standard fare. It could have been made better if the issues and messages were more subtle, and if it was a little longer to expand on some ideas. Still, it’s not just a romance and I’m hesitant to even call it just that. This is a novel about forgiveness and firefighting culture, and if you can swallow the preaching, it’s worth checking out.

Book Club Questions (spoilers!)

  1. What does forgiveness mean to you? What are your limits? What are Cassie’s? Does she end up forgiving Heath? Is forgiving the same as wanting justice?
  2. Cassie refuses to be a girly girl, finding feelings and crushes to be silly. Can you be both a feminist and girly? Is it wrong to be a feminist girly girl?
  3. Do Cassie’s new coworkers truly disrespect her, or is this just how they act to everyone they work with?
  4. Cassie’s captain in Austin warns her about all the things that her new firefighters could do to her. In reality, they sometimes do treat her differently because she is female, but it is much more subtle. How does gender influence our perceptions of others? How did it for Cassie and her fellow firefighters? In which situations do girls have the advantage? Boys?
  5. Is this novel considered chick lit? Why or why not/

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