Firecracker by David Iserson
Astrid Krieger’s family has had enough of her troublemaking. After getting kicked out of her boarding school, she returns home, wondering where she’ll be sent for school next. Switzerland might be nice. When her parents inform her that she’ll be attending the local public school and living at home, Astrid is appalled. Astrid thinks, “Just hearing the words ‘public school’ out loud made my mouth taste like urine (which, not coincidentally, is exactly how public school smells).” Well, if she has to go to public school (gah), she definitely will not live under her parents’ roof. No, Astrid will live in the rocket ship in their backyard. Yes—the rocket ship. Her father had a prototype of a Krieger Industries rocket set up in their backyard. It’s the perfect new home for Astrid, who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but her own.
Astrid is used to hatching schemes to get her way, a way of thinking instilled and supported by her grandfather, a former senator who teaches her about alibis and getting your own way. His idea of a great excuse for why you did something is, “the world turned and flung me.” Astrid takes her cues from him and manipulates people into doing her bidding, truly not caring about how it might affect them… or how any trouble might affect her, for that matter.
It’s at public school that Astrid begins to make some (possibly, kind of, a little bit) real friends, despite her caustic approach to all other humans and her infinite capacity for making trouble. Desperate to leave public school and get back to Bristol, she makes a deal with the Dean: if she does three truly selfless acts, he might consider letting her back into the school. Figuring out how to pull off selfless acts is a new challenge for Astrid, and one that she takes on with her signature eye toward revenge and drama. But as she works toward her new goal, she slowly finds out that people aren’t always how they appear to be—or who they appear to be.
Funny, weird, and outrageous, Astrid’s story proves that characters don’t need to be “likeable” or grow/learn a whole lot to be entertaining and carry a story. I laughed out loud at many of the lines, like “Talking to Pierre is like talking to a cloud. He’s just gas and rain.” Or, “Mason looked very different at his place of work. At school he looked like the sort of person who had dozens of pet snakes. But at the mall he looked like someone who maybe had only one snake.” For most of the story, Astrid just truly doesn’t give a shit about anyone or any consequences, and frankly, that’s pretty refreshing.