Burning - Elana K. Arnold
Reading this book was a bit like a roller coaster ride. I had moments where I was loving every word, and moments where I had a really tough time pushing myself to finish the book. Let me take you along the journey of the highs and lows...
The book tells the story of Ben and Lala in alternating narratives. The chapters flip back and forth between Lala and Ben's points of view and each character has a distinctive voice. I liked Ben's character -- he and his friends are very typically crass teenage boys, ribbing each other about sex and girls. Then sometimes I'd wonder whether it was accurate to portray the boys in this manner, never really talking about anything from the heart. The boys are going through the collapse of their town after the gypsum mine shut down, and each boy is moving onto a new life in another down. Not the mention the fact that Ben's friend Pete went through the loss of his father. It just seems like the boys are a little superficial in the way they interact with one another, especially when contrasted with the way that Ben THINKS. He's quite profound, yet he doesn't always verbalize what's going on in his head.
Lala's voice annoyed me at times; she almost seems old-fashioned in the way she speaks (i.e. there's never a contraction in her section of the book -- I am feeling instead of I'm feeling -- and it seems odd in today's day and age to not use contractions). But then sometimes I'd get caught up in the way that Lala sees the world (she seems very wise beyond her years) and then the way her sections are written would annoy me less.
Once I reached the acknowledgemets section at the end of the book, I was surprised to see that the author thanked a professor of anthropology, as well as people who provided her with information about gypsum mining and tarot reading, but there was nothing specifically mentioned about gypsies. This left me wondering exactly where she found out the information that she included in the book about Lala's family. My husband is half gypsy (although Eastern European gypsy) and his culture is NOTHING like the gypsies portrayed in this book. Perhaps there are other cultures of gypsies that I don't know as much about, but the gypsy culture in this book just seemed ... off somehow. I mean, Lala's family believes that a woman is considered unclean when she has her period and cannot be around the rest of the family. Even their clothes from the lower halves of their bodies are washed separately from the rest of the laundry. And yet Lala has a cell phone, and uses her phone to read books. She's reading The Catcher in the Rye during the course of this book, and seems intrigued by gazhò culture (I'm assuming this means "white" culture?). Yet, even though she's so drawn to this other culture, and imagining things that are "forbidden" to her, she still clings to these traditional beliefs of her people. And, without spoiling the ending, seems completely okay with her decisions at the end. I don't know -- it's hard to explain, but this whole part of the book just seemed a little off to me.
Before I started writing this review, I had quick glance over some other reviews on Goodreads. One of the concepts that came up quite a few times was the "insta-love" in this book. Many readers felt that the love between Ben and Lala was completely unrealistic. This is one area where I'd have to disagree, and I think that this was what finally convinced me that I was enjoying the book after all. The love story was completely real to me, and felt like a teenage romance should be. Although Ben and Lala's relationship progresses quickly (this may have been what rubbed some readers the wrong way), I felt that the quick explosion of feelings is what teenagers feel when they become infatuated with someone. Those feelings sometimes burn out as quickly as they come on, but it's that intensity that makes teenage love so real. The author did a beautiful job of conveying that aspect.
In conclusion, I liked this book, but I didn't love it as much as I had hoped I would. It would have been easier for me to digest the story if it hadn't been for the bizarre gypsy traditions that didn't sit well with me; however, there were more things that I liked than things that bugged me. It's a quick read, and one that would be great if you're participating in the Summer of Standalones!
Note: I received an e-galley of this book from Netgalley. The fact that I received this book for review did not influence my review of this book in any way.