Playing with Fire



Playing with Fire
April Henry
Published by: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: January 19th 2021
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult

When a fire cuts off a popular trail in the Oregon forest, a small group trapped by the flames must find another way out―or die―in Playing with Fire, an unrelenting teen-vs-nature YA thriller by New York Times bestselling author April Henry.

Natalia is not the kind of girl who takes risks. Six years ago, she barely survived the house fire that killed her baby brother. Now she is cautious and always plays it safe. For months, her co-worker Wyatt has begged her to come hiking with him, and Natalia finally agrees.

But when a wildfire breaks out, blocking the trail back, a perfect sunny day quickly morphs into a nightmare. With no cell service, few supplies, and no clear way out of the burning forest, a group of strangers will have to become allies if they’re going to survive. Hiking in the dark, they must reach the only way out―a foot bridge over a deep canyon―before the fire catches them.

Read an Excerpt

Standing tall, Wyatt looked the mama bear directly in the eye. In a strong, firm voice, he said, “Get out of here, bear!”

    Marco clamped his hand around Blue’s snout. Darryl pushed Zion behind his back.

    In a softer voice, Wyatt warned them, “No screaming. No sudden movements. And whatever you do, don’t run.” His eyes never wavered from the mama bear. “Slowly stretch our your arms to make yourself look as big as possible. If you’re wearing a coat, unzip it and hold it open.” Out of the corner of her left eye, Natalia could see him following his own advice as he spoke. “Bears normally stay away from humans, but there’s the fire, and she’s got her cubs.”

    Time stretched like taffy while the bears and the humans stared at each other. The three animals were the color of midnight, the only lighter patches of fur around their snouts. Natalia’s heart hammered in her ears as she fixed her gaze on the mother bear. The bear’s eyes were as big as chestnuts, gleaming in the pulsing radiance from the fire.

    On her knees in the bivy sack, Natalia suddenly felt dizzy. She swayed involuntarily 

    The mama bear made a woofing noise. Saliva glistened on her big, white teeth. She snapped her jaws, biting the air. Her cubs shifted anxiously back and forth.    

    “She’s going to charge!” AJ’s voice shook. 

    “I don’t think so,” Wyatt slowly moved behind Natalia. He stepped over her bent legs until he had one foot on either side. His knees pressed into her shoulder blades, steadying her, keeping her from falling over. “She doesn’t want a fight any more than we do. She’s just afraid and trying to intimidate us.” He raised his voice. “Go away, bear! Go away!”

    For an answer, the mama bear growled and laid her ears back. Blowing and snorting, she swatted the ground with one front paw.

    “Calm down!” Wyatt ordered. “We’re not going to hurt you or your cubs.” In a softer voice, he said, “If she does attack, whatever you do, don’t play dead. Try to hit and kick her in the face and muzzle.”

    Suddenly, the bear started to gallop toward Natalia. 

    Now there were only a dozen feet between them. Natalia’s heart seized in her chest. Her legs were still bound up by the bivy sack. This was going to end the way her dreams always did, with blood and terror. 

    Seven feet. 

    “No!” Natalia shouted. “No! Go away!” Wyatt’s commands joined hers. Then somehow, with his strong arms assisting her, she was on her feet. 

    Three feet. 

    The bear was close enough that Natalia could smell her, a sweet musky smell. Soon those heavy jaws would close on her flesh. This was it, then. 

    But at the last second, the mama bear pivoted on one huge paw, turned and ran back toward her cubs. Bumping and shouldering them ahead of her, she pushed them back into the trees, away from both the fire and the people. 

    And then all three bears were gone, as if they had never been. As if they had just been another of Natalia’s bad dreams.

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Author Bio:

April Henry is the New York Times–bestselling author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and young adults, including the YA novels The Girl in the White Van; Girl, Stolen; The Night She Disappeared; The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die; The Girl I Used to Be, which was nominated for an Edgar Award and won the Anthony Award for Best YA Mystery; Count All Her Bones; The Lonely Dead; Run, Hide, Fight Back; and The Body in the Woods and Blood Will Tell, the first two books in the Point Last Seen series. She lives in Oregon.

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