Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Burn Baby Burn
Meg Medina
Candlewick Press, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-7636-7467-0

The air is hot and even heavier than it should be in the summer of 1977. Heat seems to emanate from the streets of New York City. The collective tension of the people is palpable. The threat of the serial killer known as ‘Son of Sam’ hangs over everyone’s head.

Nora Lopez tries to ignore the utter madness of the outside world. She wants only to stick to the routine that’s yielded the best results for the latter part of her seventeen years. Working at Salerno’s deli, hanging with her best bud, Kathleen, and keeping her head down. Occasionally, hoping that things at home haven’t gotten worse.

Hope may spring eternal, but it’s not nearly enough to change her younger brother, Hector. Mami fully expects for Nora to keep her demon-spawn-sibling out of trouble. Without being tough on him. His senseless vandalism and pyromania tendencies are just symptoms of growing pains, after all.

Nora knew that Hector was into more than mischief, but even she was stunned to discover how devious and diabolical he really is. Misplaced responsibility moves everything in Nora’s life to the back-burner at first, but soon balloons out of control and becomes wholly consuming.

In a situation where there are options, but none of them are good and others are downright dangerous, Nora refuses to choose. Instead, she goes her own way, with an entirely unexpected, brilliantly brave action. Maybe that is one small fire, extinguished. Or perhaps she’s only fanned the flames and is about to be engulfed in an inferno.

I read Ms. Medina’s Burn Baby Burn a few years ago and I absolutely loved it. I didn’t review it then because I was too affected to articulate all of the reasons I wanted everyone else to read it, too. In spite of how much time has passed and how many other books I’ve read, parts of Nora’s story continue to pop into my head. I recently re-read it and realized that I would be remiss if I did not (finally) take the time to properly recommend this historical fiction phenomenon.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2018.