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Review of Burn Baby Burn

medina_burn baby burnstar2 Burn Baby Burn
by Meg Medina
High School   Candlewick   308 pp.
3/16   978-0-7636-7467-0   $17.99   g

This vividly evoked coming-of-age story is set against actual events in 1977 New York City, when tensions rose throughout a city enduring an oppressive heat wave, culminating in the historic blackout of July 13th. Seventeen-year-old Nora López faces an insecure future after graduation. The very real fear of an at-large serial killer is magnified by the violence at home, where her brother Hector’s increasingly volatile behavior is dismissed by her mother as merely hormones. College seems impossible: Nora’s mother barely scrapes by with her unstable (and decreasing) factory hours. Nora helps out financially with her job at Sal’s Deli but also manages to stash away some cash in hopes of someday getting away. For now, she escapes by hanging out with best friend Kathleen, going to the movies, and planning a big night out to celebrate their eighteenth birthdays. Nora even starts to fall for Pablo, the sweet new stock boy at Sal’s (and “a stone-cold Latin fox,” according to Kathleen), but the looming fear of a killer targeting young couples and the weight of her family’s secrets make her pull away. Nora is an empathetic character, and Medina depicts her troubled family and their diverse Queens neighborhood with realistic, everyday detail. Numerous references to New York’s budget crisis, arson wave, and “Son of Sam” newspaper articles deliberately ground the story in a real time and place, while an ample sprinkling of seventies disco and funk song references creates a brighter soundtrack for the dreams and romance of teenage girls, hinting at a hopeful future for Nora.

From the March/April 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Lauren Adams About Lauren Adams

Lauren Adams teaches English and ELL at Natick High School and adolescent literature at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Formerly a Senior Editor for The Horn Book Magazine, she regularly contributes book reviews.

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