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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Comparing a common theme found in the book "After the Fire" by Robin Gaby Fisher and my life. Overcoming hardships and self-acceptance

Receiving the letter stating that I had been accepted to the college of my choice was liberating. The thought of beginning my freshman year of college and having the opportunity to move away from home and stay on campus was extremely exciting, until I read the story about two college freshman students who were severely burned in a fire at their dorm. Perusing the story of these two survivors made me feel somewhat uneasy. After the Fire is a “true story of friendship and survival”, written by Robin Gaby Fisher. One of the major themes discussed in this deeply compassionate and motivating book is acceptance. Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos experienced a dramatic, life-altering event during their freshman year of college at Seton Hall University, when a devastating fire was ignited. Although their lives would never be the same, even after their miraculous recoveries, the power of friendship and love allows them to continue on through the struggle of accepting who they become, instead of resenting and grieving who they were. Acceptance is a powerful word that describes the ability to approve of, or believe something that results from overcoming a challenging hardship.

Throughout the novel, there are several instances where acceptance plays a key role in Shawn’s and Alvaro’s lives. After the fire when Shawn and Alvaro wake up from comas, their parents, friends, and even they must accept who they become, in order to move forward. The first time they hesitantly glanced at their reflection in the mirror was terrifying. A thousand thoughts ran through each of their minds in the moment it took them to lift the mirror to their now frightening faces, scarred beyond recognition. “…Alvaro looked into the mirror…it wasn’t anything like the face he had grown up with. This isn’t my face, [he] thought”(153-54). How would other people accept what they’ve become when they couldn’t themselves? During Alvaro’s stay at the hospital he constantly thought about what other people would think of him once he returned to campus. “…he had lain awake, lamenting how the students at Seton Hall would stare at him”(151). They no longer saw the people they were but labeled themselves as ‘burned’.

During recovery, Alvaro and Shawn were shown support from their parents and each other. Sensing companions’ affection toward them gave Alvaro and Shawn the drive they needed to speed though their painful, yet phenomenal recoveries. Experiencing the unconditional love of family and friends motivated them to accept themselves. Having each other through the ups and downs and endeavors that lay ahead was unique. They both understood what the other was going through. “A friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you’ve been, accepts who you’ve become”(163). Alvaro and Shawn lived through the same traumatic event, struggled to survive, and recovered together.

 Shawn, still feeling self-conscious, was apprehensive to return to school, dreading the stares he would receive from his peers and former friends. However, he became comfortable with whom he came to be. Both Shawn and Alvaro shared the thought that they felt as though they were reborn and had an opportunity to start their lives over, as discussed on page 212. This unfortunate event would not prevent Shawn or Alvaro from continuing on with their lives, but give them the strength to look past the burns and see themselves just as a person. They felt “determined to make the best of whatever lay ahead of [them]”(199). Once they learned to accept themselves as they are, they moved on by living in the present and looking beyond who they once were.

Although no personal experience can match the calamity that occurred on that cold January morning, I somewhat understand the predicament that Alvaro and Shawn endured. As a young child I sustained many instances where I was intentionally abused and inflicted with pain. The physical and emotional abuse created a constant fear in me and caused depression, that I’m sure was similar to what Alvaro and Shawn felt when they recovered from their injuries and returned to Seton Hall where it all began. Although I didn’t suffer any noticeable physical scarring like Alvaro and Shawn, the emotional trauma stuck with me. Even without physical scars, I still felt as though people could see my fears and knew what I had been through as if I wore my affairs on my sleeve. By receiving help to escape that unfortunate situation I accepted what had happened and the consequences that would result.

 Like any formidable hardship, it changes a person and can make them stronger. It takes time to accept the reality and move on from it. Without undergoing these life-altering occasions, Alvaro, Shawn, and I would not be who we are today. Life experiences are major elements in building and shaping character and who individuals become. Realizing that the little things in life are just as important, maybe even more than the major things, people understand that looks aren’t everything and just being able to wake up in the morning and breathe is a miracle in itself. Shawn once said, “[…] you still have your life. That’s what’s important”(212). Once we experience hardships our values are altered, and things that we previously took for granted are cherished.

Alvaro and Shawn survived. I survived. They were burned and suffered permanent scarring; something that they grew accustomed to and they live with every day. We all overcame the emotional scarring that resulted from our life-altering experiences by accepting them. There were few instances we recalled when we looked into a mirror but didn’t recognize the reflection that stared back at us. Speaking with them personally allowed me to notice the subtle similarities in our thoughts of these portentous triumphs that we overcame. Instead of dwelling on the past, we accepted what we endured and became stronger from our experiences. 

Submitted: August 07, 2018

© Copyright 2023 Amber Skye. All rights reserved.

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LE. Berry

Well written Amber Skye. Wanting acceptance from others is human nature; finding it within yourself is real strength...

Thu, August 9th, 2018 1:26am

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