Picks and Pans Review: A Tale of Two Survivors

updated 09/01/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/01/2008 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Robin Gaby Fisher

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On Jan. 19, 2000 an inferno roared through a Seton Hall University dorm in New Jersey, killing three students and injuring 58. It's a shocking story, but two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and Newark Star-Ledger reporter Fisher uses it as backdrop to detail a larger account of the incredible friendship and courage of two of the survivors: roommates Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos. After making it through the flames with severe burns, Alvaro spent three months in a coma and was given only a 40 percent chance of survival; Shawn suffered such severe burns on his hands that he was in danger of losing all his fingers. Fisher reveals the young men's gut-wrenching struggles to recover, aided by the remarkable staff of Livingston, N.J.'s Saint Barnabas Burn Center—and each other. Shawn insisted on leaving his own rehab to be there when Alvaro woke up, while Alvaro struggled to be there for Shawn's first day back at school. While the descriptions of the burn treatment are horrific, the revelation that the fire was ignited by two pranksters who nonchalantly partied afterward is heartbreaking. Unimaginably moving—readers will want to keep a box of tissues at hand—and deeply compassionate.

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