Title: Burn Baby, Burn Baby
Author: Kevin Craig
Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press (December 11, 2014)
I purchased this book on Amazon for my Kindle
Book blurb as seen on Amazon:
Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley-the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby. The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.
So I finished reading this book last weekend, but I’ve been putting off writing a review, because for the first time ever, there is a realistic possibility the author will read the review. That’s a lot of pressure. Sure, if I wanted to gush about the parts I love, and I will, that would be easy. But as my readers know, I almost never just say “good” things. Because I believe in an honest and comprehensive approach. Especially if I think my review could help a writer improve. Even if it isn’t the author of the book I’m reviewing. After all, I’ve learned so much about what not to do and what I can do better by reading the good and the bad from published authors. They are my school, my teachers, my mentors (even if they don’t know I exist!)
There’s a part of me that says I should give up writing book reviews. As I get closer to being a published author myself (no, there’s no news, just blatant optimism that someday . . .) I feel maybe writing reviews of authors I may someday meet, or work with, or even compete against, isn’t a good idea. Still, I value honesty, as long as it’s done in an appropriate manner, so for now I shall continue.
As to why Mr. Craig may actually read my review, I sort of know him. Well, as much as you can know someone you occasionally chat with on Absolute Write and passively follow his blog. He knows I’m reading it, though who I am may not register on his radar. Like I said, very minor acquaintance. I could probably never say anything and he’d never know, but that’s not me. I’ll write my review, be honest, and still tell him I wrote it. And on with the book review . . .
I’ll start with a few things I believe Craig could have improved on, but I’m going to qualify it first. I’ve read other books from a deep teen POV, as this is, and I find I don’t particularly like the writing style. I think Monument 14 by Emmy Labourne was one I’ve commented on before. While I think it is excellent to really get into the voice of a teen, especially when writing 1st person (and trust me, this had plenty of voice) I also like when authors “upgrade” how teens really speak and feel. Not so they don’t sound like teens or you lose the voice, but maybe not repeat certain words too much (unless it’s a distinct character trait.) For example, multiple teens use the word “pariah” in this book on multiple occasions. As a word, it’s fine, but repeated so many times seemed a bit redundant. I like a little more polish to my teen voices, while still retaining the flavor.
Another issue I had, and something I am guilty of myself, is telling and not showing. I’m specifically referring to how the characters feel and what they were thinking. There were longish bits of dialogue that spelled out a characters thoughts or feelings that seemed a bit excessive to me. I’d rather be shown by body language and a few well-chosen words than long descriptions that kind of repeat themselves. Even though this is how I communicate on a daily basis, and especially on this blog! Sorry guys for all the lengthy posts!
So what did I like? Well, a lot actually. I’m sure many of you have heard of the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and though I know when you hear those words, you immediately think of minorities in race, sexual orientation and maybe disabilities, but not everyone would consider a burn victim disabled. Personally, I think this book fits the bill perfectly. The WNDB campaign, in my opinion, is about showing readers another side of life they may not experience everyday, and being Francis Fripp is something very few people can really understand. Francis was badly burned by parental abuse as a child, but his emotional scars run much deeper than the physical.
This book explores the adverse affects of physical, mental and emotional abuse inflicted by a parent and their long reaching, long standing hold on the victim. It also shows the truly terrifying life of being the victim of vicious bullying. But it also lets the reader into the world of a kid who sees himself as the victim and plays that role, to the exclusion of allowing others to befriend him. He is so certain that he is unworthy of love, friendship and really anything good in life, that he hides behind his burned facade and protects himself from further hurt. Really what he has done, is allowed others to see him as a “social pariah” as he puts it in the book. It’s easy to question by the end of the book if he is really an outcast, or if his self-esteem and defense mechanisms have prevented anyone else from forming attachments to him.
I loved how Kevin developed the bully from someone who tormented Francis at school, in a sort of typical high school fashion, to someone truly evil. It was a great transformation from this kid we can all see as at least one person we know, into a monster that probably grows up and abuses his kids. And we can see how the whole “stand up for yourself” mantra, doesn’t always pan out. And neither does the “tell and adult”. I’m not saying that victims of bullies shouldn’t stand up for themselves or tell adults, they should, but the reality is much darker and more complex than that. Craig gets it, and shows in his novel how the world of high school bullying is not cut and dry, or as simple as some adults like to make it out to be.
And can we get to the climax?! Holy crap! I read most of this book with interest and a genuine appreciation for the story and the storytelling, but it wasn’t until the climax chapters that I was riveted to my Kindle screen. It was brutal, suspenseful and there was no clear way this was going to end. The fear was real, mine and Francis’! Craig pulls you in, making the scene as tangible as if you are experiencing it yourself.
I think the real gem of this story, though, is the humanity it brings to the pages. It’s easy to see people with severe deformities as their deformities. Even good people who would never bully or hurt others, look away, or look too long, or just don’t see the people in front of them as people with thoughts, feelings, dreams and emotions. They are a victim, or a burn or a lost limb. Someone to be pitied. But reading novels like this makes characters who are different than what we are, more real to us than the people we see in life who deal with the same issues we read about. Hopefully, taking a step inside Francis’ head, or the head of other people who are different, whether that be race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, handicap or medical issues, can help us readers see them as just people. Maybe through imaginary characters, their real-life counterparts can become real to us as well.
There’s a lot more I could talk about with this, but it’s getting long as it is. The last chapter was beautiful and gratifying. The villan was terrifying in a way only a real evil person can be. Francis was both moving, sympathetic and maddeningly dense, but I love MC’s who are far from perfect and help to create some of their own problems. The “message” (though it doens’t feel like a message book) is deep, moving and important for all teens to hear. I’d even say it is one of the books I really wish teens would read, much like Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys contemporary issue-based YA novels. Heck, I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes YA. If you want to work on your WNDB challenge, you can add this one to your list. It is thought provoking, emotional and substantial.
My Review: 3.5/5 stars
Check out some of Kevin’s other books: