One of the Survivors

by Susan Shaw

ISBN-10: 1416963898

What do you do when the world stops making sense? When your mother dies in a house fire trying to save a cat. When 24 of your classmates die in a fire, but you and your best friend survive. When people blame you for surviving and come to your house to throw garbage in your yard and chant "Murderer! Murderer!" Fourteen-year-old Joseph Edward Campbell keeps a journal, to “fill time, fill the page, fill my mind,” anything to keep himself from thinking. He fills three notebooks, writing about “nowhere stuff”—the color blue, vanilla ice cream, crickets and autumn leaves. But the journal effectively pulls readers into Joey’s tortured mind, gradually revealing the whole story of how he and Maureen McGillicuddy survived and how his father and others nurture the healing process through quiet support and well-meaning cliches about life. Shaw’s prose is simple and fast-moving, effectively using the indirection of journal entries to give voice to Joey’s anguish. The wrenching premise and Joey’s first-person point of view make this a story with broad appeal.


When a fire strikes a Pennsylvania high school, an entire class dies except for 14-year-old Joey and his friend Maureen. Their history teacher thinks that the fire alarm is a test and forbids his class to leave the room. Joey, obedient by nature, defies Mr. Austen by walking out, and Maureen follows his lead. A year earlier, Joey’s mother died in a fire so he could not ignore the panic building inside him. The truth of what happens that day comes out much later in the story. In the meantime, Joey and Maureen are made targets of blame, heckling, and ostracizing. Feeling both displaced guilt and anxiety, they learn to deal with their pain in different ways. Shaw leads readers thoughtfully and realistically through Joey’s healing process from counting cars going down his street and refusing to sleep inside the house, to journaling and finally to attending a memorial service for his classmates in which he and Maureen give speeches. Joey reveals his last glance of his classmates by sketching them as he remembers them. Shaw tackles a gut-wrenching situation in honest, solution-oriented terms that should appeal to reluctant readers. The novel is short, the plot and suspense build slowly, and the decisions required by the teens make for thought-provoking discussions.
One of the Survivors is heart-wrenchingly honest, compelling, and ultimately, satisfyingly triumphant.
Susan Shaw peels the layers away until nothing is left but the seed—and it is both terrible and wonderful.