Publication date: June 11th 2013 (today!)
Ben: Having just graduated from high school, Ben is set to leave Gypsum, Nevada. It’s good timing since the gypsum mine that is the lifeblood of the area is closing, shutting the whole town down with it. Ben is lucky: he’s headed to San Diego, where he’s got a track scholarship at the University of California. But his best friends, Pete and Hog Boy, don’t have college to look forward to, so to make them happy, Ben goes with them to check out the hot chick parked on the side of Highway 447.
Lala: She and her Gypsy family earn money by telling fortunes. Some customers choose Tarot cards; others have their palms read. The thousands of people attending the nearby Burning Man festival spend lots of cash–especially as Lala gives uncanny readings. But lately Lala’s been questioning whether there might be more to life than her upcoming arranged marriage. And the day she reads Ben’s cards is the day that everything changes for her. . . and for him.
I’m very split on Burning. There are a lot of things to like, but a few things that I just couldn’t get past.
For me, these parts of the book were dark and beautiful, and they set the tone for the novel. Add to that the fortune-telling that Lala and her family does, and you’ve got a really interesting, different concept. I loved learning about all of these things, and especially about how Lala could see so much about people just through looking at the subtle clues in their bodies.
The problem with Burning, for me, lay in the characterization and plot of the book. Maybe it was the way I read the novel – in bits and pieces for about 10 days, but I felt like I never really connected with the characters. I felt that the characterization was more telling than showing, so I could never really connect to either of them.
I also never really feel like there was a real arc to their characters – there was almost a lack of realization and change, and because of that, I felt like the book ultimately didn’t go anywhere. I’m not a huge fan of open endings, and because of my lack of connection with the characters, I ultimately didn’t feel like I even cared that much about what happened to them at the end.
Weirdly, Lala and Ben’s relationship was incredibly strong in spite of my distance from the characters. The love at first sight trope is really hard for me to get into, usually, but I really felt like Arnold made that part of the book believable, and the relationship itself was sexy, sensual, and just as hot as their surroundings.
Writing-wise, I just thought this book was okay. It definitely got the point across – the parallels between the burning hot Nevada desert, the burning desire of Lala and Ben for one another, and the burning effigy of Burning Man – but I felt like it almost hammered that home. There wasn’t any subtlety in the descriptions of burning, so much so that I felt inundated with those descriptions. Every other page had something about burning on it. That said, I guess the oppressiveness of the descriptions paralleled the oppressiveness of the heat and Lala’s family that much more.
Culture Shock: As a “third-culture kid”, I somewhat understand the clash of cultures represented in the novel – and I don’t mean just with the gypsies and the non-gypsies. There’s also a pretty interesting LGBT subplot involving Ben’s younger brother. I thought Arnold handled both of these conflicts realistically and with sensitivity.
Steamy Love Scenes: While I’m not a love at first sight girl, I must admit that Arnold knows how to build romantic tension. Seriously, you will be fanning yourself (and yes, that is Oliver Queen and Laurel Lance. What? I like Arrow).
Boy/Girl POV: I liked the way Arnold switched between Lala and Ben’s narration, and in particular, I was impressed with how authentic Ben’s voice was.
The Final Word:
For me, Burning was just okay. The concept of the book is really strong, but certain parts of the delivery didn’t quite live up to it. That said, if you’re looking for an unusual summer read with alternating boy/girl POVs and you’re into endings that don’t necessarily resolve, this might be the book for you.