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5 Star IHIBRP Book Review: “First Floor on Fire” by Michael Russell

A Cynical And Gritty Urban Drama Set On The Mean Streets Of Killadelphia!

From the first word of this cynical and gritty urban high school drama set in Philadelphia, readers will be able to tell this is no lax or ordinary read. In fact, there is virtually no opportunity to catch one’s breath as Author Michael Russell executes this realistic, knuckle-busting, edge-of-your-seat tale about African American student Nevaya Briggs—a savvy, tough-as-nails survivor of the streets—as she is caught up in the same plight so many other disenfranchised youth experience throughout the country. Gang violence, rape, alcoholism, drug-abuse, domestic abuse, adult predatory behavior, childhood molestation, kids having kids, and yes … kids killing kids … are all an integral, in-your-face part of young Nevaya’s life experiences as she navigates the high school corridors and the mean streets of her hometown “Killadelphia”.

For several reasons, “First Floor on Fire” is a difficult read. Over and over again, Nevaya’s life story makes your heart stop and your head ache from the dire ramifications of what is happening around her and those she loves. One highly effective tool enhancing the quality and realism of the read is that Author Russell chooses to present his work in true African American Vernacular (AAV), with no limitations on the use of the rampant profanity most hard-core urban youth speak as their mother-tongue nowadays. He presents strong scenes of ruthless violence and murder while having his characters show little to no reaction or remorse for violent crimes, striking home the point that urban youth have simply become jaded toward the type of severe violence plaguing modern America’s city streets and classrooms. Likewise, the novel’s treatment of women and LGBTQ individuals is harsh, degrading, and oftentimes terrifying, a snapshot into the current psyche of minority education and culture. But Russell—a former teacher in the same Philadelphia School system portrayed in “First Floor on Fire”—clearly demonstrates the current state of rejection, bullying, hopelessness and despair running rampant among today’s urban youth population, particularly in minority communities. Life here is harsh and cold, but Russell offers the opportunity for key individuals, like veteran teacher Ms. Dee and inexperienced teacher Mr. Morse, to make a difference, even a small one, in the lives of their students—giving readers a great deal of insight into the author’s personal concern over the plight of his own students … students who, I suspect, are quite similar to Nevaya and her peers.

If ever there was a lesson in what is happening—and what has happened—to America’s young African American urban youth, Russell proclaims it loudly and hits the nail hard on its head in “First Floor on Fire”. Surely, this is not a read I would recommend for the faint-of-heart or those sensitive to strong violence or sexual abuse situations. But if you’re looking for answers as to why our city school system continues to fail, talk to Nevaya, Russell’s anti-hero. Like Marvel's Incredible Hulk, she is a monster with a heart made of thorns wrapped around a core of solid gold with the potential to change the world, but no means to do it. Maybe then, you’ll understand why it’s so important to share her story with the world.

Find “First Floor on Fire” by Michael Russell on Amazon and Kindle at


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