3 out of 4 stars
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Arthur Reese (Artie), against all odds, made his childhood dream of becoming a firefighter come true. Due to his upstanding character, he gets promoted to lieutenant and transfers from the Soul Patrol team to the University Station One-Twenty-Three, and he is the only Black man there. The winds of change and integration are blowing, but his close-minded colleagues refuse to let go of their prejudices. Consequently, they resort to giving Artie a hard time at work. But Artie has his family and the entire Black community to uphold. His coworkers are going to have to learn that the color of a man’s skin does not matter, only what’s inside. Artie is determined to hold his head high and prove them wrong. But how far is he willing to go?
Fireman Down by Lee Shargel is a fictional story set in the 1980s. According to the author, it is based on true events. This was an emotionally charged book, and it reminded me of the story of Jackie Robinson. Shargel deftly used the third-person narrative style and often revealed the thoughts and emotions of his characters, especially Artie, allowing me to empathize with them deeply. With similes, metaphors, and the use of imagery, Shargel painted vivid pictures. When the team put out fires, it felt like I was there with them. When Artie ran into red, hot flames, it felt like I ran in with him. And even when he saved a few people, I felt the thrill of it.
The plot is simplistic, and the author revealed the end in chapter one, which I thought reduced the suspense and his creative freedom. But Shargel was clear about his goals in writing this book: to educate people that racism is only a result of fear and ignorance, to let people see what it means to be in the shoes of a Black person that has to work twice as hard to prove themselves, and to make people understand that love can be much greater than hate. The author succeeded. Apart from Artie’s character, I found Ernie Wilkins’ character to be symbolic of minority individuals that feel frustrated from constantly being overlooked and downgraded. Ernie's decision to channel his anger positively can be a source of inspiration to readers who find themselves in his situation.
However, I found the book repetitive; for example, the author repeated the reference to Station One-Twenty-Three being Overmeyer’s private kingdom several times, and it became irritating. Also, while it was understandable that Artie worried about his challenges at work, it became tiring to see it mentioned constantly. Again, essentially, some parts of chapter 27 were already in chapter 1, and I found the repetition unnecessary. Additionally, there were a few blind spots. For one, I would have liked to know when Mike had a change of heart towards Artie. Also, Charles mentioned that Artie was his friend, but I never saw any depth in their relationship, and he appeared only twice in the book.
This book will suit readers who enjoy fictional books about racial integration. If you enjoyed the movie 42, this book will give you all the feels and then some; it is heartfelt and skillfully written. I recommend this book wholeheartedly. However, considering the presence of several errors and other issues, my rating is 3 out of 4.
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