Burn Baby Burn ( Meg Medina)

burn-baby-burnBurn, Baby, Burn is set during the New York summer of 1977, which has become quite mythical. And depressing. With arson, a black out, and the Son of Sam: a serial killer on the loose, Cuban-American Nora Lopez lives in fear. Inside of her home, Nora’s brother, Hector, terrorizes her family, and she struggles to find a safe place where she can be herself. Medina crafts a thoughtful, nuanced story that many readers won’t be able to put down.

Nora’s mother refuses to recognize what her son is becoming, leaving Nora to pick up the pieces time and time again. Her only dream is to graduate from high school and move out, away from her family and the secrets she feels she must keep about them. But when the serial killer Son of Sam sends her neighborhood into a downwards spiral she never could’ve predicted, Nora’s own life is thrown off-course as well. Medina gives us a strong cast of secondary characters and a truly genuine sense of place and time, and this authenticity gives the book its merit. It touches on societal unrest, feminism, sexism and domestic violence.

The serial killer himself fades into the background which may disappoint some readers, but not me. This book will resonate with all readers who are forced to take on parental roles within their family and who struggle to juggle being a teen-ager and a parent. She knows things are wrong at home but allows her mother to look the other way. She is ashamed of the abuse from her brother but doesn’t confront the truth about his actions, while she worries about it all. Secondary characters, especially her friend Katherine who feels betrayed at first when she realizes how serious Nora’s problems are, are well developed. Nora is confused, caring, responsible, full of life, full of fear, a pretty typical 18 year old

This is a perfectly fine YA novel that hits all the right buttons and checks all the right boxes and teaches all the right lessons. This book is described as historical fiction and in the end, that was very true. The author did capture the times very well. A time where young couples became afraid to be out after dark. A time when young women with long dark hair wanted to hide their hair. And, yes, there was a stray dog in the neighbourhood. An excellent capturing of that summer. However, this is not the kind of book that I would ever be compelled to read again. No aspect of it was truly memorable but if you are into Young Adult books, New York City or the seventies – then this one will keep you enthralled.

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