Thursday, August 09, 2012

Burn by Heath Gibson

After reading the first couple chapters of Burn by Heath Gibson, I thought I might abandon the book. The problem was the main character, Wee Wee or William, a guy that is incredibly whiny at times, especially about his height (he's five three). Also, the nickname Wee Wee is just ridiculous. William also does a lot of saying what a good person he is, because his dad is a pastor. I mean, when he does something nice, the reader knows it, we don't need to be reminded that it is nice, and that he can't help doing it because he's just that kind of person. The good people I actually enjoy reading about aren't the ones that are constantly telling me that they're better than other people. So that bothered me. But fortunately, the annoyance at Wee Wee settled down, sorta, or mostly I think I managed to brush it aside when the story got more exciting, because about a quarter into Burn I really started to enjoy it.

Gibson's second novel is about a teenage volunteer firefighter, Wee Wee, who realizes that when people come out of a fire, when people are saved, they are changed. And it's for the better. Wee Wee lives in a small Alabama town, and when he saves somebody, he suddenly starts getting the recognition and appreciation he's never had before. He's short, but suddenly people are looking up to him. Respecting him. And that feeling is addictive.

Even though I started enjoying Burn enough to continue reading it, I still had some problems with the book. This is a very minor spoiler, but there is an accident involving a flint in science class, causing a spark to light an entire shirt on fire, that results in third degree burns. I honestly just don't see how that is possible. If they'd been using Bunsen burners or something, yes, but this is outdoors with a piece of lint and seems to happen in a matter of seconds– while the Chief of the fire department with the fire hose doesn't manage to do anything? I just couldn't believe it.

Another, much more minor example, is how when William starts sitting at another lunch table, only one of his supposed friends even says anything to him. It's a small town, and he even recognizes in his head how he's going to get attention for this– especially because he's the only white person sitting with somebody who isn't. But nothing happens, and it just didn't add up for me. This exact same sort of thing happened near the very end of the book, when a character acknowledged that he should do something but gave no reason for not doing it, even though not doing it seemed pretty stupid on his behalf. The specifics are a bigger spoiler I won't share.

One of the things that I did enjoy about Burn were the setting. It was great reading a book set in the South from a teenage perspective, because I always love experiencing what it might be like growing up in certain settings. Even though he whined too much, I did think the element of Wee Wee being such a short guy was also interesting, because it's definitely a reality that it can be a lot harder for short guys when it comes to girls. However, Wee Wee was also pretty superficial when it came to the girl he liked, and I think Gibson had a neat dynamic in that way– Wee Wee hated something in others, but he wasn't immune to it himself. That said, even when Wee Wee claimed to have changed, he still didn't seem to look below the girl's now less-makeup-ed surface.

My biggest problem with Burn was the characters, not only Wee Wee but also the secondary cast. While Wee Wee got on my nerves, the other characters simply lacked dimension. His father was a Pastor, and strict. His brother was good-looking, and gay. It seemed like many of the characters only had a couple traits instead of being fully fleshed out like I wanted, and the most flat of all was Wee Wee's crush Mandy. Despite my many problems with Burn, there was definitely something that kept me reading Gibson's novel, which is how he took something that the character intended to be good and showed how it completely twisted out of control– watching that happen, and waiting to see if it would catch up with him, was incredibly exciting to read.

Release Date: August 8th 2012  Pages: 264  Format: E-galley 
Source: NetGalley/Publisher Publisher: Flux  Buy It: Book Depository

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