Burn for Burn

Burn for Burn (Book 1) by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian

BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY…
THEY GET EVEN.

Lillia has never had any problems dealing with boys who like her. Not until this summer, when one went too far. No way will she let the same thing happen to her little sister.

Kat is tired of the rumours, the insults, the cruel jokes. It all goes back to one person– her ex-best friend– and she’s ready to make her pay.

Four years ago, Mary left Jar Island because of a boy. But she’s not the same girl anymore. And she’s ready to prove it to him.

Three very different girls who want the same thing: sweet, sweet revenge. And they won’t stop until they each had a taste. (Goodreads)

The Cover:

This cover is to die for gorgeous. Yes, these girls are too incredibly beautiful to all live in one tiny town and be teamed up together (because it just isn’t fair to the rest of us), but I still love it.

The Authors:

I need to get this out of the way immediately. HOLY SHIZZ, IT’S JENNY HAN AND SIOBHAN VIVIAN!  I love them both, especially Jenny’s Summer books, and I’m so jealous that not only are they best friends but now writing partners. This is a fabulous pairing.

OK, so we should talk about the book now.

The Story:

Burn for Burn focuses on three girls—who aren’t friends—living in a tiny place called Jar Island.  In order to truly understand the basic idea of the book, you need to know where each girl is coming from.

Mary is returning to the island after a few years away. She’s a sweet and timid girl who was once the victim of heartless bullying (is there any other kind?), mostly at the hand of one jerkwad extraordinaire, Reeve, the popular junior high boy who grew up to be that popular high school boy with zero depth and mega tool tendencies.

Lillia is that beautiful, popular girl who is just sort of over it.  Her best friend, Rennie is quite the nasty Queen Bee, bent on snagging Reeve (she can have him. For reals), continuing her evil reign as Cheer Captain, and devoting herself to maintaining her status as a pretty, popular, nasty little bish.  Lillia’s never been quite as nasty as Rennie, but in the past she’s been apathetic about it, eating up the attention she receives as one of the in crowd.  But now it’s like a light switch has flipped and part of her wants to fight it.  She’s tired of the popular kids, and angry at Rennie for what transpired one night at a wild college party.  Worse, it led to a possible hook-up between her old buddy Alex (also of the In Crowd) and her sweet little freshman sister. You don’t mess with a girl’s sister.

Then there’s Kat. God, I love her.  Kat was once best friends withe Lillia and Rennie.  Now she’s the resident bad girl from the wrong side of town.  Ousted from the inner circle of Rennie and the gang at the beginning of high school and instantly marked as trash, Kat has no problem being a bitch.  She had this secretive summer friendship with Alex that turned into a little bit of a fling until it seemed that Lillia’s little sister, Nadia stepped in, apparently primed to follow in her sister’s perfectly popular footsteps.  And since Rennie continues to make Kat’s school life miserable, Kat decides to finally get back at her and Alex and the whole crew for the years they’ve spent tormenting her.

Burn for Burn is a book about revenge. Mary, Lillia and Kat come together after a chance encounter in the ladies room (cuz it’s where we hang) and craft a meticulously laid out plan to basically destroy Reeve, Rennie and Alex.  No one can know they’re friends or they might suspect.  This is most important for Lillia who’s in the lion’s den every day and has to spend time actually pretending to like these people.  She definitely has the hardest job being that Rennie is constantly in her face being an idiot, Reeve continues his reign as Super Douche and Alex continues trying to hide this one-night stand he apparently had with Lillia’s baby sis. And oh, the evil plans come together beautifully. I mean, I cringed, but I also laughed. In fact, I almost felt bad for the first victim. Almost.  And since it goes without a hitch, this only emboldens the girls.

Throughout the book we get glimpses into the past of each girl; we find out what is truly driving them and how they came to be exactly where they are. There are details about Kat’s early friendship with Lillia and Rennie, Mary’s “friendship” with Reeve, and what ultimately drove her to the breaking point, and also the sad truth about what happened to Lillia the night she left her sister at Alex’s house to go to a party with Rennie. It’s all there in painfully vivid detail.

Fair warning, though there are some funny moments in this book, there is darkness.  Issues like bullying, date rape, suicide are all there. While they aren’t in any way glorified, they are certainly not tame subjects.  I think the authors handled these issues with honesty, but they may not be for the faint of heart or those looking for a cute, girly read.  And being the first in a series, this book takes an awfully strange twist at the end–one I didn’t see coming, even though it was hinted at ever so delicately early on.  You will not see a final resolution to the story, but you’ll meet some very interesting characters along the way.

The writing here is, of course, absolutely flawless. The dialogue is spot on as in all of Han’s and Vivian’s novels, but this is a departure for both of them.  Think of it as being similar to their other writings (a little edgier like Vivian) but with a bit of supernatural thrown in. I’m not talking wolves or vampires or anything, but there is something that isn’t completely normal going on. It’s like a weird combo of Heathers and Mean Girls  with some magic. Sort of.  And not the cute kind of magic. The Stephen King’s Carrie kind.

Crush Intensity: 4/5 This book may not be for everyone, but I think if you like either of these authors (and how could you not, hello) or if you’re willing to try something a little different, this is a good option.  I completely enjoyed it and I’m very interested in the rest of the series.  It was really good. I read it in a day.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Children’s for sending me a copy of Burn for Burn.

TGIF- Literary Vacations

This is the first time I’ve ever participated in TGIF, hosted by the awesome Ginger at GReads. I’m totally excited!

This week’s topic is Literary Vacations.  Now, there are a ton of places I’d love to visit: Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, Genovia (if Michael Moscovitz happens to be there then BONUS) and of course, the one everyone wants…Hogwarts (save me a Butterbeer).  But when I think of a vacation, something summery comes to mind.  I am a true California girl, so the beach is always a part of that.  And that makes me think of Cousins Beach from Jenny Han’s Summer Books.

Oh, sweet mystery, the beautifully bittersweet drama that plays out at the Fisher Beach house.  It takes me back to my own childhood, to the kids I grew up with.  I think about how that beautiful house and all of that surrounding sand– they were like a second home to Belly. And about those boys who grew up loving her–le sigh! It’s amazing how I can feel so connected to an imaginary place (I don’t think Cousins Beach is real, is it?)!

Happy Friday everyone!

It’s Time for Summer…

                       The Summer I Turned Pretty, It’s Not Summer Without You, We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

Belly measures her life in summers. Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August. Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad. They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer — they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between. But one summer, one wonderful and terrible summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along.

Summer may very well be the official time time of the year for readers to bask in the glory of loosing themselves in a good book…unofficially speaking.  It’s a time to set down anchor, i.e. dig your toes in the sand, and escape to another world entirely.  As a top pick for YA Crush Top Ten Book Settings, Cousins Beach is not a bad place to escape to.  Just ask Belly.

 The Summer I Turned Pretty, It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have Summer is the trilogy of books that takes us through important years in the life of a young girl, Belly. (Amy Han, how much do I love this nickname for Isabel?  Let me count the ways.)  Belly is a young girl who has always been “shadow” to the group of boys, her brother Steven, and their family friends Conrad and Jeremiah (a.k.a. the Fisher boys) during the summers they spend together at the Fisher summer home on Cousins Beach.  Susannah (Jeremiah and Conrad’s mother, a.k.a. Beck) is Laurel’s (Belly’s mom) life long best friend and each summer they take their children and spend the entire summer in a beach house which may be halfway somewhere between their two respective homes, i.e. their “real lives”.  I’m not clear on locations as anything but their “summer lives” is only spoken about in passing, as if life is a pattern of time spent at Cousins Beach and the rest of the year time spent waiting for Cousins Beach.  I would very likely feel this way too, if I had this rather idylic setting to go to…not to mention if Conrad and Jeremiah were waiting for me.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

From the time Belly can remember, these boys (Steven, Conrad and Jeremiah) have gone out of their way to treat her like a baby and to exclude her from their summer activities as much as possible (hence the whole “shadow” thing).  As you see the picture she paints of her interactions with them throughout the years – which we get glimpses of through flashbacks as well as in the present (present time being a 15-about-to-turn-16 year old Belly) – we are able to see what she can’t.  That through all their “girls have cooties” mentality, these boys are struggling the fact that they like Belly as a person, as a pal, and as they get older, maybe something more.  A phenomenal strength in these books is how Han has a way of allowing her character to be oblivious to things the reader can see without it being too far fetched: like a life-long brother type figure showing signs that he might just kinda, sorta like you.  Maybe.  But only if you like him first.

Another one for the “so-long-as-she-can-remember” list, Belly has had a monster-size crush to end all crushes for strong, silent, handsome, and somber Conrad.  Dreamy, mysterious and…very much not interested in her.  That’s Conrad in a nutshell.  This is the picture Belly paints of Conrad who seems to think of Belly as “just a kid”, a little sister type.  And, wouldn’t it make sense?  After all, they’ve spent their summers together since forever!

And so, our story begins to unfold this summer when Belly is about to turn 16 and, hello, she’s looking gooooooood by the pool in da summer house.  That bikini didn’t fit like that last summer!  What!!?!?!?  The boys are a little confused.  And alarmed.  And Conrad, allasudden is acting kinda like a cooooompleeeete jerkface (I seriously did NOT get Conrad for a while there, but just give him a chance friends…trust me, he’s gonna grow on you).  What’s his problem anyhow?  Could it be that, um, maybe that whole “little sister” thing was just a load of hooey?

And then there’s fun, sweet, total-opposite-of-Conrad, Jeremiah, Conrad’s younger brother.  Jeremiah is the light to Conrad’s dark.  For all Conrad’s moodiness, Jeremiah brings comic relief.  He can make everyone smile, and he has a certain sweetness that’s especially sweet towards Belly though he knows — because he’s not blind — that Belly’s heart is Conrad’s.  For now.  (What?!?!!?  I know.)  So instead, he is the best buddy-type a girl could ask for.  But is he really as perfectly lovely as he seems?  Hmmm.  Ya’ll know where this is going so can I get an “Amen”?  But before we can even think of that hot mess, we have one more boy in the life of this young Belly to meet…

As any girl with a major crush on a major hottie (read: Conrad) would do, Belly starts dating some other dude (no, not Jeremiah).  A perfectly nice, good looking, smart dude.  His name?  Cam…I think.  His name’s not Conrad, and that’s all I can think about at this point.  Alas, as nice as Cam is, and he is, all along she’s looking from the corner of her eye to see what up with Conrad…(inner Belly monologue: “Is he watching?”)  Han writes moments such as these so well.  Moments when a young girl’s own immaturity doesn’t allow her to see that as much as she says she “doesn’t care” about what her (alledgedly) former crush thinks, we know exactly what is happening.  We live through Belly’s first relationship, and it’s end, with a sense of ,”Ah, I was there once”, even if you didn’t start dating a guy you met at a 4th of July BBQ at which Conrad was a huge poo head when he realized some other guy was looking at you (even if he did at some point later that  night drukenly caress your hair and made you all jelly-kneed).

Navigating through to the books that follow Han takes us on a journey most authors might get tangled in but which she swims in fluidly.  There are struggles any teen girl (and former teen girls) can relate to, such as boy crushes, feeling awkward in your own skin, and a deliciously torturous love triangle.  Interwoven into these are harder life moments that not all of us have had to live through but which are so strongly written, the reader can’t help but feel the pain, such as divorce and father-son struggles.

One of the more beautiful branches in this story is Belly’s relationship with Conrad and Jeremiah’s mom, Susannah.  Dear friends since before they had children or husbands for that matter, Laurel and Susannah echo who many of us, ahem, more mature readers may be.  We’ve lived through these “Belly moments” of insecurity and feelings of awkwardness and we are arriving at a place where life is something else, perhaps something more complicated.  A place where we are either the mom who is able to open up and be vulnerable (Susannah) or the one who creates a shell of strength (Laurel).  And though at first glance one might think Susannah’s mothering style is the way to go, Han leaves some room for discussion.  Susannah is everything Belly wishes her mom was…fun and understanding, flexible and a little kooky.  In contrast Laurel is quieter, more reserved, but – though Belly can’t see it – loves her fiercely.   These women are an integral part of this story and the genuine way in which they are both written makes them a true shaping force for Belly as she starts making her way into adulthood.

As we move from book to book in the “Summer…” series, we see a Belly who is quite the riddle.  She personifies the contradiction we all were as adolescents: wishing things would stay the same and rebelling against them to stir up change.   During this time the families go through difficult trials that test their bonds to each other, and which ultimately bring them together even closer that they first were.  The journey, which includes a love triangle (I’m not going to say it out loud, but come on now, you’re way smart, I know you’ll figure out who it includes), is not an easy one but the results are certainly satisfying upon the last book’s conclusion.  I’ll just say this: the Jeremiah/Conrad debate is one right up there with Peeta vs. Gale and Edward vs. Jacob.  And I must add this for those friends out there who love them some love triangles: the Jeremiah vs. Conrad choice for me was not as clear cut as with these other book series (go Peeta!).

So, what could be better than a fabulous book for the summer?  These books may just answer that question: THREE summer books.  Especially if they are Han’s Summer books.

Crush level : 5/5 – Wonderful, wonderful and wonderful.  Thoughtfully written, with toe curling moments, tear jerking moments and moments that make you laugh.  These books touch on different types of love, they touch on friendship, family and life journeys.  These are books that you’ll treasure.  I loved them and I am looking forward to my friends’ daughters turning “just the right age” for me to gift these books to them (I’m hoping to channel a little Susannah for them).  Yes, I loved them that much.