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Review: Burning by Danielle Rollins

Angela Davis has been an inmate at Brunesfield, a juvenile detention facility, for three years. She’s a tough cookie who has led a hard and fast life of crime. Her time at Brunesfield has been punctuated by borderline poor treatment, but she finds solace in her friendships with Cara and Issie, two other wayward girls with sad stories of their own. When we meet her, Angela is just a few months away from release and being reunited with her little brother, Charlie. All she has to do is keep her head down and stay out of trouble, lest she be thrown into “Seg” and her term be extended. Then, Jessica arrives. The ten year old girl looks as if she could blow away on the wind, yet the guards seem tense around her and wild rumors abound about how she made it into Brunesfield.

Strange things start happening after Jessica’s arrival. A polished woman with a smile like the edge of a blade shows up in the Director’s office, promising positive changes for the girls of Brunesfield. While new library books and better shower facilities are nice, there’s something that niggles at the back of Angela’s mind, like a mouse with cheese. When she accidentally stumbles upon Jessica lighting fires in the dark of the bathroom, Angela realizes that she may not ever leave Brunesfield after all.

Touted as “Orange is the New Black with a YA twist,” Burning by Danielle Rollins is the perfect edgy mix of gore, creepiness, and mystery for the young teen reader. I’d say there’s even elements of Carrie thrown in!

Angela, Cara, and Issie were certainly intriguing characters. While the book is told from the point-of-view of Angela, I found myself wishing that it had been written from three points-of-view, so that I could get to know Cara and Issie better. Their background is hinted at and danced around, but never fully addressed, and frankly, neither was Angela’s. We eventually come to learn how she wound up in Brunesfield, but we never learn whether or not she or the other girls have learned anything from their incarceration. Jessica may be the most tragic character of all, and despite not knowing whether or not to trust her, I felt for her.

I was happy to see that Danielle Rollins created diverse characters, both in terms of race and their sexual orientation. Yay diversity! However, I don’t feel these areas were explored enough to do them justice. In fact, most of the book left me wanting: wanting more from the characters, more about their backgrounds, more explanation of the paranormal aspect, and more on the issues of teen delinquency. Perhaps I was expecting too much in terms of a grim look into the lives of children who come from troubled backgrounds?

The focus of the story was decidedly on the paranormal aspect, which turns out to be Jessica’s horrifying ability. Some scenes could make a sensitive mind and stomach a little queasy, but as someone who reads and watches Game of Thrones, there wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle! Aside from the paranormal aspect, there’s something fishy about the new doctor and why she has taken such a sudden interest in the girls of Brunesfield, and we are eventually thrown into a conspiracy theory loop that takes a rather odd turn. I admit, as a woman pushing 30, the overall story arc felt a little ridiculous at the end; however, it will be a hit for the intended audience, and especially for the more reluctant readers.

The book ends rather open-endedly, and it clearly hints at a sequel, though one has not yet been announced, to my knowledge. I hope, for the sake of those who read and love Burning, that a sequel does happen, because there are too many questions left unanswered!

Burning is hard to review in detail, as it has yet to be published and I want other readers to judge it from their own point-of-view. Suffice it to say that if you (or your teenager) are a fan of fast-paced paranormal mysteries and snarky banter between friends both by choice and by necessity, this book may be for you!

Special thanks to Bloomsbury USA Children’s for granting me an early review copy. Burning by Danielle Rollins debuts on April 5, 2016.

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