I adore a young adult novel that is well written, well thought out and makes me think – Burned did all of that and more. This novel is written in free verse which, at first, can feel daunting, but is a refreshing way to have a story told. Communicated in first person we really get inside the protagonists head, we understand her motivations on an intimate level, we relate to her drive and her desperation. Pattyn’s story is not lost in verse, if anything it serves to make us connect with the story more effectively. Hopkins creates an opportunity for us to invest emotionally in our protagonist Pattyn’s struggle, her voice is authentic, powerful and the story is utterly original.
The textual layout is constantly changing, visually striking and deliberately provocative at points, Hopkins highlights thematic words and phrases to enhance them within our train of thought – I’ve added an example ( pg. 90 in edition 9781442494619 ) so that you can better understand what the hell I’m talking about;
my way out of the house.
moments with Derek
every waking thought
Burned is Pattyn’s story but it is also the story of her family, her father, in particular and the way in which he functions within their society. Pattyn is damaged, she is broken by the way she is brought up, by her father – by his upbringing, by his military involvement, by his very damaged past. Pattyn is thrown out of home for committing transgressions against her Mormon faith, she is driven to the middle of the Nevada dessert to find salvation and redemption whilst living with her Aunt Jeanette.
Hopkins has painted the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints ( Mormons ) in an atrocious light, very early on ( p. 26 ) she depicts the church as teaching that women are second class citizens – “the message came through loud & clear: Women are inferior and god likes it that way.” and this is perpetuated by the way the LDS bishop behaves towards Pattyn, and by default, her mother. I wonder, if perhaps the message Hopkins was trying to convey was that domestic violence can happens everywhere, it is disturbing and it is horrific but if it can happen is a very tight knit community like the one depicted then it can happen absolutely anywhere and that is a message I can get behind.
One final part of the narrative I would be remiss not to mention is a controversial underlying theme – the defiant beauty that is Nevada’s Yucca mountain range and the devastating Nuclear testing that occurred there during the latter part of the 20th Century. Hopkins mentions the test watching parties held in the 1950s and the effects they had on her characters family, the surrounding area and indeed the nation as a whole. ( Time Magazine details the party craze http://time.com/3676511/nevada-nuclear-test/ ) – Burned is Ellen Hopkins love letter to the Yucca Mountains and her passion for the Nevada area shines through.
Pattyn’s experience is an emotional roller coaster ride, she makes one mistake after another the whole way through the narrative. We see her loneliness, her rebellion, lust, domestic violence, anxiety, peace, acceptance, love. . . I won’t spoil the ending for you. . . just read it. Burned ( 2007 ) is the first in a duology – the second book Smoke was published in 2013.