Book Reviews

Book Review: Forged By Fire (1997)


The second book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy, Forged by Fire, is not as emotionally driven as the first book, but the way the story is told, allows for different emotions, other than grief to surface. I didn’t get as emotional as I did in the first book, but it does drum up emotions in various areas. For me, it was mostly towards the end.
*Summary: When his loving aunt dies, Gerald suddenly is thrust into a new home filled with anger and abuse. A brutal stepfather with a flaming temper and an evil secret makes Gerald miserable, and the only light in his grim life is Angel, his younger stepsister. Gerald and Angel grow close as he strives to protect there from Jordan, his abusive stepfather, and from their substance-addicted mother. But Gerald learns, painfully, that his past can’t be extinguished, and that he must be strong enough to face Jordan in a final confrontation, once and for all…
Characters. The main character is Gerald  and it’s mostly his story. We see the world through his eyes, from when he’s a child to him being a seventeen year old young man. His young stepsister Angel can be considered the second leading character as well. Outside of them, there are three supporting characters.
  • Gerald Nickelby. When we first meet Gerald he’s a three year old and we’re introduced right away to his story. He lives with his single mother, Monique who is a drug addict and neglectful. His mother leaves him alone one night and he accidentally sets fire to the apartment, she doesn’t return until after he’s in the hospital. Gerald ends up living with his Aunt Queen, who raises him till he’s 9. With Aunt Queen, he learns how to live his life and be a child without worrying when his mother will return. When his mother reenters his life, he meets Angel, his younger sister and he immediately takes to her. He’s protective of her, and teaches her how to be brave. Unfortunately, Aunt Queen dies and Gerald has to live with his mother and her new husband and at such a young age, Gerald has to mature. He’s physically abused by Jordan but he remains strong for himself and mostly for Angel. Throughout the novel, even after Jordan is jailed and returns… Gerald remains strong for his family even if he feels like ehe can’t protect the women in his life. It’s easy to tell, even later in the novel, when he’s a teenager, that he still yearns for the love of his mother.
  • Angel Sparks. She starts off as a seven year old, who is physically and sexually abused by Jordan making her a shy and meek child. When she meets Gerald, she immediately takes to him and when he moves in with them, she views him as her protector. As she gets older, she has a passion for dance and is described to be very graceful and pretty. When Jordan comes back into their lives, she’s obviously afraid but tries to be hopeful, that he truly loves their mother, that he’s changed and he just wants to be in the family.
  • Jordan Sparks. Very much the villain of the story, he sparks fear into his entire family. He’s described as a big man and he physically abuses his family as well as sexually abusing Angel. His character is very much one dimensional as nothing changes with him even if he pretends to be. He’s meant to be scary, imposing and intimidating.
  • Monique Sparks. Gerald and Angel’s mother, she starts off being neglectful to Gerald. She is drug addict and neglectful as she leaves him home alone often. When he’s injured in the fire, she’s jailed. Later she returns with the hopes of him living with her now that she’s changed and for the most part, it does seem like she’s doing much better than before. At first, she refuses to acknowledge Jordan’s abusive nature and is very upset when the kids manage to get him arrested and jailed. But without him, they all do much better.
The Story. A connecting theme in these novels is “self discovery”, Gerald’s story leads him into becoming brave and a man. Something he wasn’t always. Unfortunately, he has to deal with a lot of hardships before being able to get to that part. It’s a very simple story but the journey must be experienced in order to feel relief in the end. The story at it’s basis is a good one, but I’ll talk about this more below.
The Title. I didn’t mention this with Tears of a Tiger but the title of this novel, is pretty clever. Fire is a big part of the story. It’s what takes Gerald away from Monique in the beginning and it’s what brings him closer to her in the end. According to, “forged” means: to form by heating and hammering; beat into shape which is the better definition for this particular story. Gerald, at a young age is forged by the first fire from a scared and neglected child into a determined and loved little boy which leads into who he becomes as a young man. He’s not necessarily exposed to fire again literally, but instead figuratively, as he goes “out of the frying pan and into the fire” while dealing with Jordan. His mother was enough in the beginning but Jordan is much worse. Later, when there’s another fire, Gerald this time, instead of being afraid must protect those he loves.
Silly Dialogue. Like I said in my review for the first novel, I’m sure it has to do with the time period as well as the environment, but that doesn’t make it any less funny.
Too Short. I’m sure these books weren’t meant to be that long, as the third book is the longest in the trilogy but I think the depth of the characters and the story would have benefited if it was longer. Due to it being so short, while the story and characters are interesting, it would help the reader to relate get more emotionally attached to Gerald and Angel especially. Plus, there’s just so much going on, so much time passes in this short novel that it feels overcrowded.
Melodramatic and Shallow. Now, I think these books are very good for young readers, especially African American preteens and teenagers to read, and while the basic story is a good one, everything surrounding it can be a bit “extra” making the story “soap opera-ish.” It becomes “shallow” because it only scratches the surface of the problem and only allows us to get but so close to the characters. It might have been different if the story was told from Gerald’s point of view, or maybe even started with him being a nine year old, with him remembering how he got to that point… something else to help give some depth.
Character Development. I like the characters, I think they’re still pretty strong but they also falter in that there’s not enough development for them. It’s probably contradictory but what we’re given is some good skeletons, that could have benefited from more meat. This is why I think the story is suffers from being too short because there’s not enough time to really dig into these characters due to the amount of “stuff” going on.
Timing/Continuity/Consistency Issues. There are a few times where it’s really easy to get lost in when this is all happening.  Gerald starts out being a three year old, but when he first meets Angel, he’s nine and she’s in the first grade, then cut some years later and he’s seventeen and somewhere in there, it’s get a little confusing to what the ages are, how many years have passed, how long Jordan’s been in jail and what not. There are no real transitions for us to know the timing.
Overall, I still love this novel and I do think it is better than Tears of a Tiger, except I think that novel does character development a bit better as it does focus solely on Andy and fleshing him out through him and other characters whereas in Forged By Fire, we only know so much about Gerald’s personality, but we get a lot about what’s happening to him. A good character should move the plot forward instead of the plot happening to the character. Otherwise, they become uninteresting. But anyway, the book has interesting characters, the story at it is basis is interesting and relevant, the title is great foreshadowing for Gerald’s journey but at the same time it suffers from only scratching the surface, not giving the main character, especially, strong character development.  I recommend the book due to it’s nature and leading black male character.
Rating: 3.96 out of 5 stars.
*Summary is taken from back of novel.
Have you read Forged by Fire? What do you think of the novel? What is your favorite or the best emotionally driven novel you’ve read? Please respond in the comments below! Don’t forget to like this piece and follow!
Next Book Review: Darkness Before Dawn

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