Saturday, January 21, 2012

Burn by Suzanne Phillips

What might you do if your own son or daughter killed someone as a result of bullying? How would you stand by them? How would you want your child to heal? What would you want their future to hold? Realistically? Truthfully? Painfully but honestly? And then, if you are like me, you are left with the emptiness of your own world of feelings, completely separate from theirs, but massively overwhelming just the same: how do you feel? And what are you gonna do about it?

This book is only about the first seven of those questions. The remaining in that list are simply part of what I was left with after I finished reading Burn. I still don't know my answers to the last questions. I do know that bullying is brutal, unpredictable, and wicked, and this book centers much of the storyline with those three adjectives in mind.

Burn is written by a special education English teacher; knowing special education teachers, I am guessing she has witnessed at least some of what she writes about. At the least I imagine it easy mental steps to create the story line in this book from what her students experience. I should know: my mother was a special education teacher for part of her career. While I am sure she sheltered me from many of the brutal stories her students carried and lived, I know it takes a special kind of compassion for holding that kind of living. In Burn, a teenager is bullied mercilessly by a schoolmate, a wicked/football playing/can-do-no-wrong-to-adults-and-torment-whomever-he-wants-particularly-the-scrawny kind of punk we all have examples of. After the abuse hits an ugly high, the protagonists' brain goes kinda wonky, off-center because of how the trauma of the abuse (and this is abuse) affects him. Funny how prevalent innocent until proven totally guilty rules in high schools; of course that makes sense until we return again to a story like this one. Something bad, nasty, painful, hateful, unbelievable happens, and silence is so, so, so often the response. Ugh. The phrase "he runs the school" is a common one in books like this one and in many of the coming-of-age fiction that keeps landing in my hands (ahem, I know, yes, I pick it up-- okay, I will own that). What makes this book unique is Phillips' transparency in the protagonist's thinking. As I read, I often wondered if I was in his head, particularly as he grew further and further into his traumatized state. Denial is a large river, some say, and this character effectively denies most actions to the very end of the book, to that point that at times, I wasn't sure what really just happened and had to reread.

I liked the writing style of this book. I appreciated the storyline. Sadly although I wish it weren't true,  I can easily imagine a number of high schoolers finding great truth in this story. Check it out if you are interested in that category of seeking truth for some of the young people in our lives.

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