Twenty-six year old Cassie Hanwell is one of the only female firefighters in her Austin fire department. Her career is just beginning, but she’s already proven herself to be a good leader who is quick on her feet and tough as nails. She’s earned the respect of her crew and her chief, and a promotion looks all but certain…until she punches a sleazy politician (who also happens to be her former abusive boyfriend) in the face during an awards ceremony. Suddenly, her future isn’t looking as bright.
Reluctantly, Cassie decides to transfer to a different station to be closer to her sick mother near Boston. The two haven’t spoken in ten years and Cassie is still mad at her mom for cheating on her dad and leaving the family. But she doesn’t have a whole lot of options at this point. And dealing with her mother is the least of Cassie’s worries. On her first day, she takes one look at the decrepit fire station and her BRO-ed out coworkers and realizes she’s facing a long road ahead. The new crew doesn’t like having a woman in the firehouse, and they plan on letting her know it every chance they get. The only one who seems open and friendly toward her is Owen, the rookie on the team. In fact, he’s pushing for a friendship, but Cassie doesn’t want that. Or does she?
There is a lot to love about this book. I love that Cassie is not even close to the “manic pixie dream girl” stereotype. She’s strong and somewhat closed off, and even though she develops and grows throughout the story, she never stops being an emotionally calm and contained person. It’s refreshing to see a competent and controlled female character in a romantic-drama-type book.
I also really love the theme of forgiveness that runs through the whole story. Author Katherine Center talks about trauma and fractured relationships authentically and honestly (no glossing over the hard stuff), but her advice on how to forgive (mostly shared through the character of Cassie’s mom) is surprisingly helpful. Watching Cassie be able to confront her past and work through it in such a believable and still somehow relentlessly hopeful way is so, so uplifting. I really didn’t expect to have this strong of an emotional connection to Cassie’s journey, but, wow, I really did.
I had told my story. I had put it into words, at last… Telling the story changed the story for me. Not what had happened—that I could never change—but how I responded to it.Katherine Center
My only minor complaint is that some parts of the story are too over-the-top dramatic. The second half of the book, especially, is basically just one intense event after the other. I know Center had to bring the story full circle and close up loose ends, but she lost me a little bit toward the end.
Still, what a great book. Cassie is such a unique and refreshing character, and watching her work through the trauma of her past to create a better future for herself was a really enjoyable experience. Things You Save in a Fire gets five stars from me all day long.