“Chasing Fireflies: A Novel of Discovery” by Charles Martin
Book Review from 2022
This book was the first to make me cry while reading in 2022. You may be familiar with Charles Martin because of the book/movie “The Mountain Between Us.” I have read several of his books, which are completely absorbing, atmospheric, and enthralling. It’s like being dropped into another world with characters who might be your neighbors.
What the book is about
The story is about an abused six-year-old boy found bruised and abandoned by railroad tracks. An adult reporter, a foster child himself, digs into this boy’s past and how he came to be alongside those tracks. The reporter wants to help the boy; he knows what it is like not to know where you came from. There is a story about the man who adopted the adult reporter when he was a boy, too, just as compelling as the one for the boy. The quest to discover all these secrets will keep you hooked.
The novel starts with action and quick peeks into the lives of the three leading male characters. A small boy, an adult male, and his uncle. In the beginning, I wondered how these three, so different from each other, would come together as a story. But they did profoundly.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot because this one is worth reading, even for people who don’t have much time to read. At least listen to it.
There is another character in the novel as well. The story is set in Georgia, where I’ve never been (airports don’t count), but Martin uses that place in a way that makes the story impossible to occur anywhere else. He shares the geography, culture, and sense of place in a way that makes a reader feel like a tourist taken into the confidence of the locals. The setting is a character and shapes the personalities of the people.
What I got out of it
As a woman raised in a home with three sisters, I was never around boys enough to understand how boys are raised.
Then I met my husband.
I knew I loved him when I watched him with his son, who was five years old when I met them. Their relationship was a thing of beauty. It had all the qualities of friendship, enjoying each other’s company, yet with a firm guiding hand for behavioral expectations. All of it communicated with love. “I’ll always be your best friend,” my husband would say to his son, “but I’m your dad first.”
When I became a stepmom, I had to learn what boys needed from their fathers and mothers. Not only had I never been a mother before, but boys? That was a whole new universe. I read “Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys” by Stephen James and David Thomas to learn what boys need at different developmental stages. His dad knew that instinctively, but I had to learn how to nurture our pre-young man while giving him the freedom to become his own person.
I watched as my husband and son explored the world, fascinated at their playfulness, curiosity, and desire to “get dirty” with whatever they were doing. Every exploration was a deep dive of experience.
I watched my husband impart intergenerational knowledge, common sense, and life advice to his son that he learned from his grandfather who raised him. I watched our pre-young man thrive in this environment until he was returned to the one who hurt him. Then I watched the pain of a father whose son was unjustly ripped away from him. I can only pray the effects of his growing up without his father are mitigated by their time together.
Outside the experiences of my own family, I’ve watched our culture medicate boys into zombie states and denigrate chivalrous warriors. As a therapist, my heart broke so often when I worked with parents of boys who were told their child was ADHD and needed horrendous medication to conform. I asked them to consider that perhaps their boys were not mentally ill but were just being boys. The number of fatherless families continues to grow, and some are finally starting to acknowledge the devastating effect this has on boys. How many boys have to grow up with no positive male role model to show them what it looks like to be a good man?
Boys need these examples.
“Chasing Fireflies” explores all these themes and more. This book is for adolescents to read with their fathers, mothers, and friends. It stirs the heartstrings in unexpected ways and provokes a thoughtful examination of what it means to be a boy.
In the end, I set my Kindle down and wiped my wet face, overwhelmed by the beauty of the story’s ending and how much those characters reminded me of my son, my husband, and his granddad.
Why it is worth your time to read
A great book is one you have to take with you to the bathroom because you can’t bear to set it down. You might miss a moment. Better just to hold it. This was that kind of book.
I read many good books, but this one hit me in the heart, mind, and gut.
I think it will be for you too. So yes, read it. Listen to it. Take it in using whatever format you choose.
Read it to understand the mystical curiosities of the relationships between boys and their fathers.
Or just read it because it is a beautiful, unique story.
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