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We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

Book Review

The Fire Within by Chris d’Lacey has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Last Dragon Chronicles” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Liz Pennykettle’s house in Scrubbley, Massachusetts, is just the right place for David Rain, a college student, to rent. It’s a pleasant and cozy home, and Liz and her 11-year-old daughter, Lucy, are charmingly eccentric. Liz is a potter, so the whole house is full of clay figurines of dragons, which are strangely lifelike.

Liz’s dragon is called Guinevere, and Lucy’s dragon is Gwendolen. A few days after he arrives, Liz gives David his own clay dragon, which David names Gadzooks. Gadzooks is holding a clay pencil and pad, and Liz says he can help David with writing inspiration.

Lucy Pennykettle is obsessed with squirrels and insists that David like squirrels, too. A few months ago, her neighbor’s oak tree was cut down and the neighborhood squirrels ran away, devastating Lucy. The only squirrel she has seen recently is Conker, who went blind in one eye and couldn’t escape the neighborhood due to his disability. Lucy asks David to write a story about squirrels and says Gadzooks will help him compose it.

When David goes to the library to check out a book about squirrels, he meets Liz’s next-door neighbor, Mr. Bacon, a grumpy man who seems to hate small animals. David is worried when he discovers that Mr. Bacon is making a rodent trap to catch Lucy’s favorite squirrel. David and Lucy build their own trap to catch Conker humanely, so they can transport him to the local library’s gardens, which also contain oak trees.

David puts the Pennykettles’ cat Bonnington inside Mr. Bacon’s squirrel trap so Liz will find her cat stuck inside it, be outraged and demand that Mr. Bacon destroy his trap. Everything works according to plan, but while David is gratified that Conker is no longer in danger from Mr. Bacon, he doesn't know how to catch Conker by himself. Instead, he catches Snigger, a smiling squirrel who lives in the library gardens.

David begins writing an adventure story that he intends to give to Lucy on her birthday. He discovers that when he mentally focuses on his clay dragon Gadzooks, the dragon sends him ideas for a story about Snigger, Conker and their other squirrel friends.

David overhears Liz telling Lucy the story of Gawain, the last real dragon, and he himself begins dreaming about dragons until he’s not sure whether they are real or not. His fictional story, Snigger and the Nutbeast, begins to overlap with reality as well. When he writes that a crow is chasing Snigger on the lawn, it actually happens in real time.

Sophie Prentice, a volunteer, arrives to collect donations for the local wildlife shelter. When David and the Pennykettles finally find Conker, Sophie tends to the animal's injuries at the shelter. She becomes friends with the Pennykettles and tells them that Conker has a severe health problem, which means he won’t live very long. Lucy is distraught over Conker’s diagnosis but is excited about taking him to the local library’s gardens, where all his squirrel friends live. After Liz, Lucy, Sophie and David deliver Conker to his new home in the gardens, Liz helps Sophie select her very own dragon, which she names Grace, and Sophie and David become a couple.

David struggles to come up with an appropriate ending for Snigger and the Nutbeast, now that both Snigger and Conker are happily settled in the library gardens. Lucy demands an exciting conclusion to the story, and David doesn’t like the sad ending that Gadzooks suggests. When Liz, Lucy, Sophie and David all go back to the library gardens to look for Conker, David finds that he has already died, as Gadzooks said he would. They bury Conker beneath the big oak tree in the garden.

David feels confused and angry because he doesn’t understand all the dragon-related things happening at the Pennykettles’ house, so he mentally tells Gadzooks that he doesn’t care about him. This saddens Gadzooks.

Liz tells David that dragons cry internal tears which put out their fire and that they can go into deep slumber if their fire is not rekindled. She says David can rekindle Gadzooks’ flame by loving him. Liz tells David a long story about how humans and dragons first became connected — a human girl named Guinevere caught the final tear of the last dragon, called a fire tear, and protected the fire for the rest of her life.

After the story, David no longer sees the dragons as figurines, but as small living creatures who fly around the house. He apologizes to Gadzooks, who is in a deep sleep because he’s heartbroken. David catches Gadzooks’ fire tear as it falls, and an ancient witch named Gwilanna suddenly appears to give David advice. She says he must cry also, so David cries a single tear, which mixes with Gadzooks’ tear and forms a magical flame. He brings the flame to Gadzooks’ nose, and Gadzooks inhales the flame and comes back to life.

David tells Sophie that the Pennykettles’ dragon figures are real and that they come alive. He says that Liz and Lucy are descendants of Guinevere, the girl who caught the fire tear of the last dragon. Sophie doesn’t believe him, but she appreciates his creativity and thinks he should be a novelist.

David and Sophie join Liz and Lucy in planting a tree in honor of Conker. After the tree-planting, David reads everyone the revised final pages of Snigger and the Nutbeast, describing Conker’s peaceful final days and giving everyone closure over his loss.

Christian Beliefs

Liz Pennykettle says Lucy talks about squirrels so often, she’s tired of hearing about them and wishes Noah hadn’t allowed squirrels to board the ark.

David prays for Conker the squirrel to survive after an injury.

Other Belief Systems

The dragon figurines come to life, due to an ancient magic connecting them with real dragons who once roamed the earth.

A witch-like character named Gwilanna offers advice about how humans should help their distressed dragons.

Authority Roles

Liz Pennykettle and her daughter Lucy have small arguments, but they clearly love each other and respect each other’s wishes. Liz sets rules and boundaries for Lucy and also provides her with lots of joyful experiences, such as birthday parties.

David is kind to Lucy and always thoughtful of her feelings.

Profanity/Violence

None

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

None

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

9 to 13

Author

Chris d'Lacey

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

Orchard Books, a division of Hachette

Released

On Video

Year Published

2001

Awards

Unknown

Reviewer

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.