A Synopsis of Henry on Fire

Henry on Fire is a middle grade novel with appeal beyond its age group.

Henry discovers a horse with a scar on his forehead in his front yard. He will discover later this is a hornless unicorn, the victim of a brutal attack that happened over a hundred years ago in a land called Altara.

The horse carries him to Altara where the first person he meets is an old man called Papo. After traveling for two days with Papo his suspicions are confirmed, Papo is plotting to use Henry for his own purposes and then to “be rid of him and the other boy.” Henry sets off alone to find the other boy and warn him. He is also wondering whether or not he can be hurt or even killed in this alternate world.

At the end of each day in Altara Henry falls asleep only to wake up in his own bed in his own suburban life. At home he has two friends, Jamal and Fred and a little brother named Larry. While Henry is struggling to understand his alternate world he is also struggling with the challenges of his middle school life. A great deal hangs on a chess match against the coach. If he wins, Henry won’t have to climb the twenty-foot rope in gym class. A task he is certain will be impossible. Also, Jamal falls in love but needs Henry and Fred to go to the dance with his girlfriend’s best friends. This is Henry’s first middle school relationship and his stomach is tied in knots. He also must face his anger issues, his fear dweebdom is an inescapable black hole along with the ordinary assignments of a book report, a science test and a geometry test.

Back in Altara Henry finds the other boy, Anree, who in a few days will be raised up as the Tara, the leader of the land of Altara. They are identical, this is the fact Papo and his friends plan to use to unseat the new Tara.

Henry and Anree decide they must find the lost key to the Gates of Altara and heal the ancient wrong done to the unicorn in order to fully establish the true Tara. The horn that was brutally taken from the unicorn a hundred years ago has been hidden in plain sight in the apartment of one of Papo’s co-conspirators, and amazingly Henry’s grandfather has the key to the Gates and it is Henry not Anree who is the true heir to the role of the Tara.

Through all this Henry discovers he can accept his assigned place in school as a dweeb with a chessboard or decide he will be something more. He realizes the reason he doesn’t have many friends is he is a lousy friend. He learns he must take responsibility for Henry.

In the final pages Henry wakes up in his bed at home to find his mother reading his journal. She wants to know if this is fact or fiction and whether Henry or Anree has come home to her.