Thursday, September 03, 2015

Review: Burn Girl by Mandy Mikulencak

Series: Standalone
Release Date: September 01, 2015
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Co.
Genre: Young Adult
Source: Copy provided for honest review
Rating: ★★ ½

A meth lab explosion leaves Arlie permanently scarred — both physically and emotionally. Yet, she develops the street smarts and survival skills to keep her addict mother out of the reach of the law and hidden from her stepfather, Lloyd, the man responsible for the explosion that killed three people.
Shortly after Arlie’s 16th birthday, her mother overdoses, forcing an end to their nomadic lives. Social services steps in and rules suddenly exist where none had before. Soon, she’s living in a 31-foot Airstream trailer with an eccentric uncle and attending high school for the first time.

While her facial scar makes it hard to fit in, Arlie begins to think a normal life might be possible – that is, until her stepfather tracks her down and insists she return drug money her mother had stolen. A final confrontation tests Arlie’s idea of right and wrong, and how far she’s willing to go to protect her new life.

There are some very great, important, poignant even, things to take away from Burn Girl.  If only the delivery of those things would have been executed slightly better. 

Arlie's story is a tragic one. Raised by a meth addict mother and partially by a meth cooking stepfather, she has spent more time being just a survivor than being a child.  It's a sad story that reminds you that not all children in the world have the normal stress of school, the angsty best friend, and the boy they secretly crush on. Some have to dive in dumpsters to find that day's meal.  In Arlie's case, they may also have to survive a meth lab explosion and the scar it's given her. 

A decent portion of Burn Girl focuses on Arlie's past. While I normally like the character background that flashbacks can give, I didn't enjoy them much here. It didn't make Arlie, in the present day portions of the story, any more endearing. In fact, I think it made me dislike her a little. 

That needs some explanation. Here's the thing about Arlie...she's been given a new lease on life. Her mother dies and the state becomes involved. Enrolling her in school for the first time, giving her therapy sessions and contacting an uncle she never knew she had.  An uncle who willingly uproots his entire life to come care for his niece.  In my book, you should be pretty thankful for all these things. Well, minus the mother dying, obviously. But Arlie really isn't. She's distrusting and at times acts like nothing more than an undeserving brat. 

I'm not going to say that it would be an easy transition from the life she always had, to this new one. It wouldn't be, but damn it, show a little appreciation. I struggled with that aspect of Burn Girl. Quite a lot. 

That is only part of the story though. A big part. But Arlie's growth in that area just was too long in the making for me. The other characters, however, were well developed and enjoyable.

Also, the romance in the book was rushed and though there were some extremely sweet moments in that romance, they were tainted by how quickly the word 'love' came into play.

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