Kristen's Reviews > One Foot in the Black

One Foot in the Black by Kurt L. Kamm
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Nov 14, 2008

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bookshelves: first-reads
Read in November, 2008

I’ll be honest; I wasn’t exactly excited to read a book about Firefighting in the California wilderness… I’m not firefighter material, and I’m a strictly East Coast resident… though when I lived in FL it seemed liked I-95 burned from Jax to Orlando every year, and that every year it was the “Worst fire in Florida History.”

Short Summary: At the tender age of 19 our young man, Kowalski travels from Saginaw, Michigan out to Auburn, California to learn to be a firefighter. Kowalski comes from a troubled home, and brings more mental baggage with him than physical baggage. Once he arrives in California he trains as a wildlands firefighter, learns what it is to become part of a brotherhood, and deals with the emotional pains of his past.

This book is set up in alternating chapters, one from the present where Kowalski is learning to be a firefighter, followed by one from his traumatic childhood. I’m not entirely sure that this was the most effective way to get the story across… and the biggest problem I had with this book is that I’m not sure what story the author was trying to tell. He did an excellent job with the technical aspect of training camp, firefighting, and the frat-like camaraderie of the firefighters. Kamm also did an excellent job with making the reader despise the boy’s home life, particularly his father. There were other areas however, that felt very weak to me, and a chapter or two that were unnecessary in my mind.

For example, the character of TB is supposed to be a surrogate father figure to our lead, however as readers, this relationship is never fully shown or developed. I felt that for the effect of the relationship on the book, more time should have been spent on their relationship than some of the training they were going through. I also felt that the hotel scene, as well as much of the bus ride could have been cut and replaced with more relationship building chapters. Our lead character is a hothead, and it’s easy to see why he would be… but as a reader, his choices in dealing with others make him difficult to connect with. We read dialogue, and we see them train to be firefighters, but there are no truly defined relationships in the book other than proximity.

This is by no means a bad book… where it is strong, it is very strong. If the weaker portions could be brought up to the rest of the book, then this could probably land on Oprah’s book club. For Firefighters or those that love firefighting in general, this is a must read already, because that is the true strength of this book.

Parent Rating: Not for the kiddies – sex, domestic violence, some profanity, forest fire victims. Probably okay for 15 and up.
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