Thursday, August 30, 2012

ARC Book Review: Burn for Burn by Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian

Title: Burn for Burn
Author: Jenny Han, Siobhan Vivian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: Sept 18, 2012

Cover Impressions: First of all, kudos for having cover models who actually look like the characters (double kudos for having an Asian character and *GASP! an Asian Model - IT CAN BE DONE!)  This is the type of cover that would definitely appeal to my jr high girls.  The faded colors work really well and I enjoy the effect of the transparent title overlay.

The Gist:
On the picturesque Jar Island the teenage population subsists on partying and gossip.  Three unlikely friends, Lillia, Kat, and Mary secretly band together in a "Strangers on a Train" - esque plot in order to take down the people who have made their lives miserable.

Oh so much potential!  I was really looking forward to this book.  As a teacher, I see mean kids every day and, once in a while, there is a teen so heinous and cruel that you can't help hoping that they get their comeuppance one day.  I was hoping that this book would let me live out those schadenfreudian fantasies but, instead, it just left me feeling sad.

Three kids were targeted for revenge: Alex, Rennie and Reeve.  While each of the kids had done horrible things, they didn't seem to be cruel enough to deserve these punishments.  As such, I couldn't force myself to side with the main characters against them.  One particular problem that I had was that so much time was concentrated on Alex.  Of the three, he was the least deserving.  He was (to me) just a nice guy who made a mistake (possibly).  A good 3/4ths of the books was spent on minor pranks used to humiliate Alex.  I found myself cringing at each of these because all I wanted was for Lillia to break down and actually ASK him what was going on.  I think, had the revenge started with Rennie or Reeve instead, I could have gotten behind it a little more as these characters were slightly more reprehensible.

I also had an issue with the type of revenge that the girls were taking.  What I was expecting: a slow progression from small pranks to bigger ones resulting in humiliation but no real harm.  SPOILER ALERT - What I got: very tame pranks and then a sudden jump to DRUGGING A MINOR!  WTF?!  This is not cool, under any circumstances, and incredibly dangerous!  This was the moment where the main characters really lost me.  From this point on, I was no longer on their side.

The characters themselves represented basic stereotypes, but they were fun and I enjoyed watching the budding friendship between the three.  Lillia was probably my least favorite, she was nice enough and the authors did attempt to give her a more meaningful back story, but it felt forced and, once revealed, was never mentioned again.  Lillia and her friends are very materialistic and I did not enjoy how this came through in the writing.  For example, during a scene at Rennie's home it is pointed out that she lives in a condo, shares a pool and that her mother bought last season's dress (Gasp!) on sale!  I would love to hear other people's opinion on this but it felt to me like I was meant to feel sorry for Rennie and her mother.  This really bothered me.  I sympathize with characters who have rough home lives, dead or absentee parents and a meager income but I refuse to feel pity for a character simply because she has to work a part-time job in order to afford to live her friend's extravagant lifestyle.

Kat was fun and feisty and Mary - oh my heart! that poor damaged girl.  I wish I had been able to spend more time getting to know them and that there had been some growth and change by the end of the book.  I understand that this is a series and things need to be saved for the next book, but I would have liked to see a little softness from Kat, some personality and bravery from Mary and some backbone in Lillia - just a spark would have been fine.

I was not a fan of the switching, first person narrative.  This however, may be a personal issue.  Whenever I encounter this particular form of writing I end up spending the first few lines in every chapter looking for clues in order to see who is speaking and this distracts me from the plot.  The writing style itself is clean, not overly descriptive, and flows well.  One particular problem I had with the plot was the choice to incorporate some semblance of the supernatural.  It was very subtle, but jarring and left me scratching my head as to what exactly was going on.  I felt that this was completely unnecessary and took away from my enjoyment of the novel.  I sincerely hope that there are big plans for this in the next novel, otherwise it should have been cut altogether.  The abrupt ending of Burn for Burn did not work for me either.  I don't need all the ends to be tied up in a first book, but I do prefer a little closure.

I am conflicted about whether or not I will continue this series.  I guess it will depend on the synopsis of the next book.  

Teaching/Parental Notes:

16 and Up
Gender: Female
Sex:  Kissing, Sex mentioned - not described,
Violence:  Possible date-rape, Fist-fighting
Inappropriate Language: Shit, Ass, Bitch, Fuck, Asshole, Slut, Prick, Pissy
Substance Use/Abuse: Underage drinking, smoking, use of marijuana, drugging of drinks,


Atmika@I Talk Books! said...

I love the cover of this book! :D
I thought this would be amazing as both the authors are good., I am not sure.
Thanks for the review. :)

Liesel K. Hill said...

I haven't read this one but I've heard mostly good things about it. Sorry you didn't like it as much as you wanted to. Perhaps its one of those that are about a certain age group but not actually very great for that age group to read because they would be too impressionable toward it? Don't know. Thanks for the review, though. It's good to have more than one opinion. :D

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