I was not a big fan of The Summer I Turned Pretty Trilogy, by Jenny Han. In fact, I think I kind of hated it. So it might have been surprising that I suggested to Alee that we read Jenny Han’s newest book Burn for Burn, co-written by Siobhan Vivian. What changed my mind, you ask?
Okay, no one asked, but I will answer anyways. What really changed my mind was seeing the two of them discuss their friendship, their book, and their childhoods in person at the National Book Festival last fall. The only word I can use to describe them is delightful. Jenny Han wore knee socks. Both talked about the most embarrassing thing someone ever did to them growing up (and they used the perpetrators full names!). Plus apparently while writing the book Han and Vivian would take on personas from the book and fight with each other. Combined with the prevalent theme of bullying within the narrative I was pretty instantly intrigued.
All of the charm, fun, and realness that I saw in them last fall, appeared on almost every page of Burn for Burn. The book is told from the three first-person perspectives of high school students Kat, Mary, and Lillia. The girls come from different backgrounds, have different issues, and run in different social circles. The only thing they have in common is all living in Jar Island, going to the same high school, and having someone they want to get revenge against. Together they can accomplish, what none of them can do alone!
I described the book to someone as part “Horrible Bosses” part “John Tucker Must Die.” The books manages to take a fairly ridiculous plot line – and pull it off in a really believable way. I also thought the stakes for each character were really spot on: not too dramatic but also not too nonchalant. This always seems to me like one of the hardest things to when writing from the perspective of a teenager.
I connected with all the characters. Each of them brought me back to a different part of growing up. Lillia reminded me about feeling overshadowed by a more outgoing and confident friend and being so scared to ever make a mistake. Mary brings back feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere and that no one would understand me. Kat was the hardest character for me to relate to – but she reminded me of the kind of false bravery it takes to grow up. The kind that makes you make a joke when you want to cry. Why would I enjoy these memories coming back? Probably because in some ways it feels better to feel like I wasn’t alone in those negative experiences.
But I swear this is not as drab or depressing as I am making it sound! It is funny and full of so many quirky, real-life episodes.
Could not recommend this book more for anyone who is looking for a fresh take on a high school story that deals with some really relevant issues, like depression, hook-up culture, bullying, and privilege/social class. I would feel really lucky to get the chance to write a book like this with my best friend one day!