Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: Burned

Ellen Hopkins's Burned is written in the same haunting verse as her more well-known Crank trilogy.  I had often glanced at Burned on the library shelf and considered picking it up, but to be honest, the summary inside the jacket cover scared me off.  It begins, in large, bold type, "I do know things really began to spin out of control after my first sex dream."

Um, not to sound like a prude--but that sounds like an area that I'm better off not knowing about.

Particularly when the cover goes on to state that "Pattyn's father catches her in a compromising position."

So while I absolutely devoured Crank, Glass, and Fallout, I was okay with leaving Burned on the shelf.  But then one of my students told me that I just "HAD" to read it.  And this particular student is an adorable, quiet, well-behaved, sweet girl that would definitely not recommend smut.  And when I gave her an incredulous look and said, "Really?", she responded with, "Oh, you would just love it!  The writing is so good, and Pattyn is such an interesting character, just the kind of kid that you would want to help in real life."  So that hooked me, and I went straight to the library that night to pick up Burned.

And it's true, Pattyn is EXACTLY the kind of girl that I would take a special interest in if she were my student.  Really too bad for her that apparently all of her teachers, not to mention the librarian that she loves so much, are all blind.  Or at least stupid.  Or just uncaring.  Because NONE OF THEM HELPED HER, even though it was obvious that she was being abused.  And even if they somehow managed to miss the abuse, it should have been painfully clear that an otherwise good kid took a sudden and frightening turn downhill.  Why didn't anyone intervene?  See, that's my problem with this book.  Or my problem with reality.  But I digress.

ANYWAY.  Pattyn's "sex dream" was nothing graphic.  It was maybe PG-13.  In fact, the most scandalous part of the entire book was probably the dust jacket.  So I'm really glad that I worked past my initial prudishness and read it.

Pattyn von Stratten (gotta love the rhyming name) is the oldest girl in a large Mormon family.  Her family doesn't exactly do the church proud though.... her father is an alcoholic who beats his wife.  Her mother, in turn, is nothing but a baby factory who submits to the beatings in exchange for being allowed to sit in front of the television the rest of the time, while her daughters do all the housework and raise the newest baby.  The church tells Pattyn that women must submit to men.  Pattyn dares to have other ideas.

In her junior year of high school, Pattyn starts dating a non-Mormon boy named Derek.  Their relationship gets physical.  Gossip gets back to her parents through other kids from her church, and her father confronts Derek and threatens his life.  Derek dumps Pattyn, leaving her heartbroken and confused.  She reacts angrily, earning her the punishment of being banished to her Aunt Jeannette's ranch for the summer.  She goes unwillingly, but it's at Aunt J's that Pattyn finally learns what real love is, first from her aunt and then from a handsome neighbor....

A few thoughts here.... For starters, any strict Mormon who picks up this book is clearly going to HATE it.  (Okay, any actually strict Mormon wouldn't be allowed to pick up this book.  But you get the idea.)  The book is incredibly critical of Mormon culture and beliefs, repeatedly pointing out the negatives and making a case for potential of how the belief system could be destructive if employed in a skewed way.  But Hopkins never says a word about the positives of this faith (and because this is a work of fiction, she certainly doesn't have to).  So just a warning--if you're at all sympathetic to the LDS church, steer clear of this book; it will just make you mad.

Secondly, WOW, for a smart girl, Pattyn made some incredibly self-destructive decisions.  It was almost like she WANTED to self-destruct.  This might be the point to get into a deep discussion about how the children of addicts are prone to addictive behaviors themselves--but I'll spare you the psychoanalysis.  When I was reading the Crank trilogy, I was willing to accept all of Kristina's horrible decisions because, you know, she was a meth addict--obviously she wasn't thinking straight.  But in Burned, Pattyn had no such excuse.  Personally, I think that she should have asked teachers, counselors, and law enforcement officials for help a million times over... and never, ever, EVER touched a drop of alcohol.  At the VERY least, she should have called Aunt J for help when she got into trouble with her dad back at home.  And the last 25 pages contain so many bad choices that I just wanted to throw the book down in disgust.

That being said, I'm still going to read the sequel (Impulse).  I may be good and frustrated with it, but I'm too hooked on Pattyn's story to stop now!

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