Published by Bloomsbury on April 5th 2016
Genres: young adult, Thrillers, paranormal
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After three years in juvie, Angela Davis is just a few months shy of release, and she'll finally be free from the hole that is Brunesfield Correctional Facility. Then Jessica arrives. Only ten years old and under the highest security possible, this girl has to be dangerous, even if no one knows what she did to land in juvie. As strange things begin happening to Angela and her friends that can only be traced to the new girl's arrival, it becomes clear that Brunesfield is no longer safe. They must find a way to get out, but how can they save themselves when the world has forgotten them?
Readers will be rooting for Angela and her friends to find the truth and save themselves in this spine-tingling story rich with secrets and conspiracies.
Burning caught my eye right away, since I am one of those who has fallen under the spell of Orange is the New Black’s influence. I don’t reach for the prison angle on novels, but Minnow Bly treated me well, so I decided to take a chance on yet another incarceration novel.
When I initially requested this book, one of my concerns was the “thriller” part of the description – I tend to not handle scary well. However, I do quite enjoy physiological thrillers, and the book certainly gives a good rush, blending realism and paranormal in the story to create a book with enough of both to make the story addictive. The premise for the warped story line is great – a small, innocent pre-teen girl clinging to a teddy bear is brought into a tough prison full of girls who have committed some pretty horrible crimes. But the girl is the worst criminal they have ever seen.
Decoding the intentions of the characters was pretty easy, but it was still a chilling ride. The main character was great – I loved how she wasn’t the typical “I’m so much better than these other criminals” main female MC. Angela certainly wasn’t the wide-eyed, pitied juvie girl, and this was quite refreshing for a YA novel to have a tougher main role. She came from a lower socioeconomic class, and it showed in her character. Her education was lacking, but she made up for it in wit and survival skills. Not every girl is a genius in a tough spot, and sometimes it is insulting to insinuate that stories only revolve around girls who are just naturally smart or sweet and kind. There is a place in fiction for those who fall in the middle or towards the end of the bell curve.
The story starts to bend towards a secret shadow society and the morality of using or taking girls placed in prison is brought up. On the surface, in the media, and on a political platform, the well being of felons seems simple; just treat them like animals, or better yet, just put them down like the plague they are. But when you start delving into the why and the how they came to the decisions they made, then the black and white turns awfully grey. This is what always draws me into mental ward/prison stories: the humanity below the outward appearance. People could learn a lot from understanding why our prisons are filled, and why our high incarceration numbers are never addressed, since prison is a booming business for many companies. People scream that they want to throw all mental people into nut houses and be done, but the answer is never that simple, and there are more humane ways to approach the subject. (Sorry to veer off the subject – I just find this topic very charged and horribly ignored in our society).
Returning back to the book, Angela and the small, dangerous girl, Jessica, build a bond, which is touching, and allows Angela to display her “big sister” qualities, since her release is motivated by her wishes to be reunited with her little brother. The friendship in the novel was wonderful, as Angels tries to balance her protectiveness over Jessica and her alliance with her other friends. There is even a sweet f/f relationship that flowers on the side, which shocked me, and made the story even more interesting.
I only had a few issues with the novel. First, the romance: I highly dislike guard/prisoner romances. It is an unequal balance of power for one side, and you can’t build a healthy relationship if someone can demand or lord over the other at any time, even if it is just “following orders”. It just reminds me too much of abuse, and can easily mirror an sadistic relationship.
Second, the story seemed almost silly or over the top to make the story go forward during certain parts of the book. Some of the actions or events were dramatic or emphasized for the sake of the writing, not the actual plot. Then the ending was forced and rushed when so much more could have happened, and for a book filled with emotions, the ending was oddly void of any sentiment or feelings, when it was chalked full of opportunities.
Lastly, the world building was weak. I wanted to know more about the system of people with powers, and the program for recruiting them. I hope there is a sequel to the novel, so that we can delve more into the rules of the powers, but for this book, I often felt frustrated by the lack of explanations.
In the end, I did end up enjoying this one quite a bit, and found it quite a fun read. If you need something just a bit different and grittier, then I recommend this novel for your TBR pile. This would also be a great Halloween read.