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Burning Hardcover – April 5, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—When Angela takes the rap for her thieving boyfriend at 15, her sentence is three years in Brunesfield, a juvenile correctional facility in upstate New York. Here, rough girls pick on weak girls, and the few who are "crazy as…" live in Seg Ward, short for segregation, or solitary confinement. While this thriller's coarse language, setting, and ambitious agenda—an evil doctor deceives inmates, who then begin disappearing—vie for readers' attention, it is the portrait of Angela that stands out. Sensitive to her cellmates, she takes solace in their company when offered and steers clear of their rages. Angela is up for parole in three months and desperate to reconnect with her younger brother, Charlie. Typically teenage, she's also pretty hard on herself: dyslexic, she needed three tries to earn a GED, but instead of taking pride in this, Angela feels only embarrassment. With her parole in the balance, she's forced to bodyguard someone new to Seg Ward, a 10-year-old diagnosed pyretic who starts fires telepathically. Angela, realizing Dr. Gruen's manipulations, must weigh her cooperation against the possibility of her release. As this too-twisty plot fizzles, readers will stay with the story of Angela's teen angst instead. When prison guard Ben Mateo asks for her help with a crossword puzzle, it's the start of an attraction that both of them want—and want to avoid. Their forbidden romance is compelling, believable, doomed, and quite fitting, given the novel's gritty context. VERDICT Some readers will find the grisly setting of this overreaching thriller dramatic, but its strength lies in the personal challenges faced by its teenage protagonist awaiting parole.—Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY
"Burning is an engaging, fast-paced thriller with a science-fiction twist . . . A blend of Orange Is the New Black, X-Files, and X-Men, Burning has great teen appeal and is highly recommended." - VOYA
"Everything is creepier when set inside a broken-down institution, and Rollins plays this up, mixing elements of simmering hostility, paranormal abilities, and questionable authority figures all in a confined and unlikable place. She leavens it with small dashes of innocence, friendship, and family love, so that readers come to care about the characters in this suspenseful tale. Give it to fans of Joe Ducie’s The Rig (2015), or consider pairing it with Stephen King’s film Firestarter for a book and a movie program." - Booklist
"The story of powerless girls shaping their own power is the heart of this novel, and readers who enjoyed Suma’s The Walls around Us (BCCB 6/15) will find similar darkness and thrill here." - BCCB
"Students will appreciate the diverse characters, the interesting setting, and the mysterious fantasy elements. This is a fast-paced read that will be a hit where Walter Dean Myers’ prison fiction is popular. Recommended." - School Library Connection
"Its strength lies in the personal challenges faced by its teenage protagonist awaiting parole." - School Library Journal
"Stephen King's Firestarter meets Walter Dean Myers' Monster. . . . With its subtle yet timely commentary on police brutality, interracial dating, and LGBT rights, the novel addresses contemporary issues without didacticism. A wildly fulfilling and frightening read." - starred review, Kirkus Reviews
"Burning is Firestarter for the next generation! Vivid, suspenseful, and tautly-wound, this book reads like a love letter to the modern thriller genre. Teens will relate to the accessible, well-drawn characters and tight pacing." - Micol Ostow, author of AMITY and THE DEVIL AND WINNIE FLYNN
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Top customer reviews
Angela has been spending the past few years in a juvenile detention center for breaking and entering, and basically stealing stuff. We learn more about how she came to that life, but the real story focuses on her interactions with little girl named Jessica who is also brought to juvie. Right away Angela, is scared of this strange little girl and how at times it looks like her eyes have turned pure black.
Angela and her cellmates start to notice certain changes being made to the prison. A group known as SciGirls comes to help get the girls involved in their program which basically gets girls involved in science and whatnot. The leader, Dr. Gruen has a special interest in Jessica and wants Angela’s help in getting Jessica to open up. Angela soon learns that Jessica is no ordinary girl.
I wouldn’t exactly call this book a horror novel like Danielle’s other books written under her pen name Danielle Vega. This one is more of a thriller with a twist of paranormal tied in. The book is pretty freaky too in some spots. It’s definitely one that keep you turning the pages. While the pacing isn’t overly fast, it’s not exactly slow either. It’s just the right amount to keep you invested and slowly show you its tantalizing secrets.
I think one of the most terrifying aspects of this book was its setting! We’re talking a prison…so to speak. Prison for teens at least, so yeah juvie but still the same atmosphere in some ways. Angela is a criminal, so are her friends, their young age kept them from being tried as adults. And based on their crimes, Angela and her friends are sort of the worse defenders. So I was actually a bit surprised when Jessica came to stay with them in their cell. Her supposed crime was pretty high up there I guess, but still, the age differences had me wondering if it was a smart move? Throwing a ten-year-old into a cell with sixteen-year-olds? Maybe it does work out that way. I don’t know. I would assume that Danielle did her research when it came to these things, so naturally, I just rolled with it.
This book was pretty weird. And I like weird. Yet I also like answers, we don’t get too many of those in this one. I’d like to think that what I inferred to have happened is the case. But there were just things that get left unsaid at the end that didn’t leave me 100% satisfied. I plan to read Breaking next, which is said to be a companion novel. So maybe those answers might be mentioned in there. We’ll have to see. It was little things really, like when it came to the SciGirls group. And some other things that I really cannot mention, but again, I have some theories about what happened there and think my guess is fairly good, but there is still some questions that I have at the end that I seriously have no clue to answering! Lol.
We have a few teases of romance in this one as well. Granted, it’s not really the kind of book where you should expect there to be love and kisses and all that. I wasn’t really expecting there to be anything really, so the little teases and tastes that we got were surprising yet well played. They weren’t there just to simply have kisses and teases, so that was kind of nice.
Overall, Burning was a most intriguing read. I feel like at the end of every novel of Danielle’s I’ve had questions. Ones that make me feel like the story is far from over. Though it seems one of them really was over at the end. I hope to learn more from the next book of this maybe kind of series? It’s unclear whether this one will be a part of a larger world series or not, but one can always hope for these things! If you’re looking for an eerie read that will keep you guessing and twist your head around a bit, I would totally recommend Burning!
Overall Rating 3.5/5 stars
I LOVED IT!!! Only problem is the ending!! oh and i read it in a day😂 i really hope a sequel comes because this is one of my new favorites! then again all of her books are my favorites!
“In the nearly two years since I started coming up with four letter words to write on Issie’s hand, I had never once thought of ‘hope.’”
Located near Syracuse, New York (the fictional) Brunesfield Correctional Facility is home to one hundred-odd girls between the ages of ten and eighteen. A large minority are considered low-security: runaways and unwanted teens whose parents dumped them in the system. Roughly half are in for drug offenses; along with the dozen girls convicted of theft and destruction of property, these inmates are considered medium-security. And then there are the high-risk inmates, the violent offenders, the so-called “monsters” of the group, one step above Seg in the prison hierarchy: Seventeen-year-old Angela “Angie” Davis and her dorm mates, Cara and Issie.
Angie rolled into Brunesfield eighteen months ago, after committing a string of robberies with her then-boyfriend Jake. (Not so much “one bad decision” as a series of them; and less “violent” than comically inept. Spoilers!) She’s up for early release in just three months, and hopes to be out in time for her younger brother Charlie’s birthday. But her plans are thrown into disarray with the arrival of Brunesfield’s newest inmate: a shy, ten-year-old girl named Jessica Ward who’s accused of starting the fire that killed her foster father and landed her brother in the hospital, scarred for life.
Strange things seem to happen around Jessica: Light bulbs shatter. Radiators burst. The air crackles with electricity and flames sometimes materialize out of nowhere. And that’s not the worst of it: A social worker named Dr. Rose Gruen arrives, hot on Jessica’s heels. Ostensibly in Brunesfield to recruit new members for “SciGirls,” her science program for underprivileged girls, Dr. Gruen nevertheless seems obsessed with little Jessica. Soon Angie finds herself unwittingly swept up in Dr. Gruen’s research.
Burning is likely to be compared to ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK – OITNB for teens, if you will – but really it’s more like OITNB meets FIRESTARTED meets THE X-FILES. (A bit of an oversell, admittedly, but you get the idea.) There are a ton of supernatural elements and weird corporate conspiracies that take it out of the realm of contemporary fiction. Nevertheless, one thing it shares with OITNB (aside from the upstate NY prison setting of course), is the way that the writers use a piece of entertainment to sneakily drop some knowledge about the prison-industrial complex. Whether it’s the use of torture (in the form of segregation) as punishment for minor infractions; the crumbling infrastructure; the inadequate educational opportunities; the lack of mental health care and drug treatment programs; the sub-par hygiene; or the potential for the abuse of power, BURNING hints at the real monster under our collective beds: prison state, USA.
In this context, the budding romance between Angie and Officer Ben Mateo is troubling, to say the least; it feels like we’re meant to root for a relationship that, if consummated, equals rape. Because of the fundamentally unequal power dynamics between guards and prisoners, prisoners cannot consent to sex. Period. Though Angie and Ben only kiss – and in a point in the narrative when his position as guard is mostly moot – the ‘ship is disquieting just the same.
Returning to OITNB, it’s reminiscent of the Daya/Bennett ship – but without the feminist ending. Bennett started out as a perfectly well-intentioned, even sweet guy – yet the relationship eventually went sideways, revealing him to be not such a nice guy (or should that be Nice Guy?) after all. Yet Mateo seems to stay sweet to the end, which sends the absolutely wrong message. “Good” guys don’t rely on a captive dating pool, okay?
I had an especial love/hate relationship with the books on tape subplot. HIS DARK MATERIALS is my all-time favorite series, and like most members of the fandom, I don’t think it gets near enough love. So Mateo’s gesture with THE AMBER SPYGLASS had me swooning, if just for a moment, against my better judgment. And then I felt manipulated. I am so weak, y’all.
(Issie’s reaction to the whole thing was pretty chill, though, I must admit.)
Anyway, while the story is slow to get started, it really hits its stride in the last third; this, for me, was the creepiest part. I like that the monster isn’t the usual suspect. (If this seems like a spoiler, worry not: it’s actually foreshadowed pretty heavily in the first chapter!) In fact, Brunesfield is filled with villains, most of them totally free agents. The ending leaves open the possibility that they will all pay for their crimes … one day.
The story is also wonderfully diverse: Angie, Cara, and Jessica are black, and Issie is Latina. Angie suffers from a learning disability, which went undiagnosed until Cara identified it as dyslexia. (Hence the audiobooks.) Cara is gay, and Issie is a big girl – and totally cool with it.
Yet there were a number of little details that didn’t sit right with me: If girls keep setting fires in the bathroom at night, how come no one finds any evidence of this the next morning? You have a pantry stuffed with food (including perishables!), but you never go in there? How are two New York City girls so scared of mice? When Director Wu takes a job elsewhere (offered by Dr. Gruen, to get rid of her), why wouldn’t the state just hire a replacement?
On this last point, Rollins could have made Brunesfield a privately-run prison, absent outside employees to oversee Dr. Gruen. This also would have provided yet another avenue for exploring contemporary abuses of/in the prison system.
Overall, BURNING is an entertaining enough read, though not without some issues. If a supernatural YA set in a prison is what you desire, I’d recommend you give Nova Ren Suma’s THESE WALLS AROUND US a try first.
** Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. **
Most recent customer reviews
The synopsis introduces Burning as Orange Is The New Black for the YA peeps, and I think that's an exaggeration.Read more