After the Fire
by Robin Gaby Fisher

Little, Brown and Company, 2008. ISBN 0316066214.
Reviewed by Sharon Blumberg
Posted on 01/25/2009

Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration

After the Fire recounts the true, riveting story of lasting friendship and the human spirit of survival. The story involves freshmen roommates and best friends, Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llano, who narrowly escape an horrific fire at Seton University's dorm on January 19, 2000. The fire is set by two boys participating in a senseless dorm prank. The fire rapidly engulfs the building, claiming the lives of three students, seriously injuring 58.

The boys are rushed to the burn unit at Saint Barnabus Hospital. There, a team of specialists treat their severe burns while opening up their hearts. The reader is able to envision the author's realistic descriptions of the victims' excruciating recovery process in the hospital.

Fisher chronicles in vivid details the two boys' journeys as Shawn and Alvaro struggle to heal from their physical injuries. The boys' comraderie and support for one another is what sustains their will to survive.

Alvaro challenges himself to overcome shadows of his former identity while interacting with his longtime girlfriend, Angie. While his physical scars remain, he and the reader question what constitutes real beauty.

This account of human triumphs and setbacks makes us not want to waste any time appreciating our loved ones. Fisher makes it clear how fragile life is, while demonstrating how strong the human will is to persevere against life's greatest odds. This poignant, yet necessary read won't be soon forgotten.

Robin Gaby Fisher is a news feature writer for the Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey's largest daily newspaper. She specializes in telling stories about regular people living through extraordinary circumstances. Her series "After the Fire" was a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

Fisher is married and lives in Somerset County, New Jersey and Woodstock, Vermont. She loves spending time with her nieces and nephews and hiking the mountains of Vermont with her Bernese Mountain dog, Boomer. Visit her website.

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