Review Blog

Oct 18 2016

Burn baby burn by Meg Medina

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Candlewick Press, 2016. ISBN 9780763674670
(Age: 14+) Recommended. 17 year old Nora Lopez lives in New York during the terrible year of 1977. The heat is scorching and there is a killer on the loose. But that's not all Nora has to face - her family is spiralling out of control, with her mother having difficulty paying the rent and brother Hector becoming uncontrollable and befriending drug dealers.
In a story of resilience set against a fascinating historical backdrop, Medina brings to life the difficulties that Nora faces with courage and thoughtfulness. With her father only interested in his new family and not paying his way, it is she who must interpret for her mother, and try and avoid the increasing violence of her younger brother. When she meets a cute boy at the deli where she works, she and her friend Kathleen know that Sam the Man, the serial killer, is murdering young couples, and they both wonder if it is safe to go out on dates. Her teachers are encouraging her to go to college but all Nora wants to do is reach the age of 18 when she can leave home and become independent, without the family worries that are so overwhelming.
I enjoyed the thread of feminism that weaves its way through the story, with Kathleen's mother an ardent believer in going to rallies for women's rights. She takes the girls along with her on marches. Nora too is clever with non-traditional skills of woodwork and these skills will ultimately help her in a resolution to her problems.
Friendship plays an important part of the story, and the relationship between Nora and Kathleen will leave readers asking questions about when it is right to tell family secrets and seek help from friends.
There are some big themes here: not only is there the simmering heat that erupts in violence in the city, and the threat of a serial killer on the loose, but the family dynamics are dire. In the author's note at the back Medina talks about her theme of juvenile domestic violence that is rarely touched on in young adult novels and the novel being a 'celebration of people who find their strength even in the worst circumstances'.
This would make a great literature circle book, with lots of themes to be discussed.
Pat Pledger

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