Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

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

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.

Book Review: Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

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Title: Phantom Limbs
Author: Paula Garner
Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Genres: General Fiction, Young Adult

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phantom-limbsPhantom Limbs
Paula Garner
Candlewick Press, September 2016
ISBN 978-0763682057
Hardcover

From the publisher—

How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief—or be swept away by it.

Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.

I read a lot of young adult fiction but much more of the action-oriented type—science fiction, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.—than general fiction or the angsty high school drama kind. I don’t mean to be the least bit disparaging about that last one; I just don’t have a better term for it. Anyway, my point is that Phantom Limbs isn’t my usual cuppa tea….and, yet, I was interested.

Now, I happen to believe there’s at least a slight thread of mystery in nearly all fiction, even if it’s just the mystery of why people do what they do. That’s certainly the case here and there are other mysteries such as what really happened to that little boy years ago and why did Meg’s family leave town, almost run away?

Three characters share center stage and, while the relationship between Otis and Meg is important, especially in whether they can, or should, try to resurrect it, it’s Dara who grabbed my attention and held it. At turns caring, dictatorial, abrasive,  encouraging, Dara has every reason to resent what’s happened to her but she chose to use her skills in the best way possible by training someone else to be a champion swimmer. Does Otis appreciate it? Maybe not as much as she would hope and, now, Meg is distracting him even more.

This is a story of terrible loss that causes worlds to fall apart and the love that can make things just a little better. While Dara, Otis and Meg are frequently at serious odds, they also have much in common in their perhaps subconscious quests for happiness, and their journeys towards the future kept me reading into the night. Paula Garner has a lovely and effective way with words and I hope to read much more by her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

About the Author

paula-garnerPaula Garner spends most of her time making food, drinks, and narratives, despite being surrounded by an alarming TBR pile and a very bad cat. Her debut YA novel, Phantom Limbs, comes out from Candlewick in 2016. Paula is represented by Molly Jaffa of Folio Lit, and lives in the Chicago area with her family.

LINKS: Website | Twitter

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9/5: Such A Novel Idea – Guest Post
9/6: The Litaku – Review
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9/8: Pretty Deadly Reviews – Review
9/9: Resch Reads and Reviews – Guest Post

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Book Review: The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

The InfectsThe Infects
Sean Beaudoin
Candlewick Press, September 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5947-9
Hardcover

Nick is just a teenage guy trying to get by in a cruel world. After being sent to juvenile boot camp for a genuine accident, his world is about to become crueller and survival is key. His life as Nero has begun, but can he just sit back and watch as everything around him burns?

Firstly, let me just say, to all you budding authors out there, writing for specific age groups really is an art. It’s a skill that needs to be nurtured, then disciplined before being set loose upon the world; otherwise it will be like an unruly child that is permitted to run amok while their parents stand idly by, sipping on lattes. Therefore, writing conversation down the way you think teenagers speak, is not going to work. It will jar, sound unnatural and will become very irritating very quickly and this is the main gripe I have with The Infects. There were simply too many times where dialogue went as follows:

‘What?’ Idle said.
‘What?’ Billy said.
‘What?’ War Pig said.
‘What?’ Estrada said.
‘What?’ Nero said.

This happening even once in a book is once too many in my opinion but unfortunately for me, it happened a lot. Sentences were often very short and placed list-like in amongst otherwise decent text. As anyone who reads my reviews knows, I hate lists, so having both lists and text like lists will drive me around the bend while I weep for humanity. Another annoying aspect was the repetition of certain jokes. Yes, I got the joke where one of the camp leaders was called Mr Leroy and knew martial arts so everyone called him Bruce. And yes, it was funny when I read it the first time, but I only half-heartedly laughed the second time and kept a straight face the third time and then started to poke at my own eyes with a dirty stick the fourth time. Having your character, (you know, the one with the funny name) continually being referred to as Bruce Leroy every time he speaks gets old very, very quickly. ‘Is that right?’ Bruce Leroy said. ‘Why yes!’ this mental patient said. It reminded me of a child who hears a joke they think is hilarious and will then go on to repeat said joke to every living human possible until they encounter the next hilarious joke and begin all over again. It’s stupid, childish and makes me want to give up on the book, so please, don’t do it.

I guess in parts, reading this book was like trying to watch a zombie pass a sobriety test. Try and picture them as they lurch and shuffle from foot to foot while missing the line by a mile and you’ll get the idea. In this case, I guess I’m the exasperated cop, rolling my eyes at the side of the squad car while said zombie says ‘honestly officer, I only ate the one hand’ (rough translation from zombie nurrrrrrrrgh). As some people are beginning to realise by now, I’m a fussy so-and-so. To get a good review from me for your book really is an amazing feat. Honestly, I really do appreciate how much blood, sweat and tears went into writing your book and I greatly admire you for it but I’ll still mercilessly pick apart each and every mistake, careless technique or delusional style you may choose to employ. It’s nothing personal you see. Simply put, it’s not you; it’s me.

Which brings me to the tipping point. Would I recommend this book to others? Do I think younger readers would enjoy it? Does it make me fearful of a zombie apocalypse? The answer in each case is resoundingly….yes! Teenage readers will most likely find this appealing, especially with its scenes of gore and flesh consumption, not to mention the group of teenage characters all fighting to survive in a zombie-eat-human world. Annoying writing habits aside, this was still a title I wanted to read to the end. I wanted to find out what happened to each character. I wanted to find out exactly how the virus got into the general population in the first place. There is a good story there, you just have to sift through layers of annoying traits before you find it. But once you’ve trained your eye to filter out these blips, to skim over those hideous bumps, you’ll find a story you can really sink your teeth into, rotting flesh and all.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, July 2013.