William Tucker loves being a volunteer firefighter (maybe it’s no coincidence that a pastor’s son would enjoy saving people). And after he rescues his crush, Mandy Pearman, she undergoes a profound transformation for the better. In fact, it seems like a lot of good comes from the embers of tragedy in his small Alabama town. William may not be able to meet his father’s expectations, force his mother to ditch the gin, or protect his gay brother, but for those who need a second chance at life, William isn’t afraid to light the match–and become the hero the town needs.
While perusing Netgalley for tantalizing reads my eye was immediately caught by this simple but stunning artwork. Of course I know that you should never judge a book by its’ cover. But how could you not be inspired to pick a book who’s cover hinted at an atmospheric, dark and disturbing read. The synopsis only confirmed these assumptions; a pastor’s son gripped by pyromania- well you can’t get much more disturbing than that in a YA contemporary. Unfortunately Burn didn’t quite live up to its dark promise.
William “Wee Wee” Tucker believes that the unconditional love and support of his community in the aftermath of devastation, combined with the life affirming nature of a near death experience, does nothing but improve the quality of life for a victim of fire. This leads to Wee Wee taking it upon himself to “save” the inhabitants of his small town, one act of arson at a time.
While I applaud the author for daring to write a multidimensional and flawed character, I feel that the predominant aim was to create conflict in the reader as they attempt to consolidate a likeable and kind character with someone who does unforgivably horrible things. This technique, which tied me up in knots while reading Tabitha Suzuma’s controversial romance, Forbidden (read review here), just didn’t work for me in Burn.
Despite being written in first person present tense, I found it very difficult to relate to Wee Wee as a character and to trust him as a narrator. I couldn’t decide whether Wee Wee was unhinged and couldn’t see any of the negative consequence of his actions, whether he was a dishonest narrator and chose to ignore anything that would show him in a bad light or if the author was trying too hard to make Wee Wee likeable.
Throughout the book, Wee Wee only allows us to witness those events and outcomes, which help to reinforce his warped worldview, leading to my distrust of him as a narrator. As a reader I feel as though I would have found the book more satisfying had I been exposed to an opposing perspective.
The only person in the story who is severely harmed by fire is DJ, the victim of a freak accident rather than by Wee Wee’s hand. Following the incident, Wee Wee visits a heavily sedated/unconscious DJ in the calming environment of the hospital with his, previously questionable, mother keeping vigil besides his bed. The next few occasions when we meet DJ he is well on his way to recovery. Wee Wee, doesn’t witness, or doesn’t allow us to experience, the hours of gruelling treatments and agonizingly painful recovery.
Later when we are exposed to the horrifying aftermath of a person’s home razed to the ground, it is the protagonist’s selfish concerns about detection that are the focus of the scene and not concern or remorse for what the victim has lost. We do not witness the heartbreak of shifting through the ashes, looking for some unscathed memento of a lifetime of memories or the hard work of rebuilding a home.
I have to admit that this is a well paced and otherwise well written book. It certainly kept me turning the pages, as it races through the events leading up to the goose bump-inducing climax. It was only after I put the book down to gather my thoughts that I realized that although I got caught up in the story it ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied and unsympathetic towards the protagonist. Even the impressive ending, which created such a clear image in my minds eye was muddied by a red herring of a prologue.
Verdict: A pacey read which ultimately left me a feeling unsympathetic, unsatisfied and a tad baffled.
Reviewed by Caroline