Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Pub. Date: June 11, 2013
My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "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."
Ben lives in Gypsum, Nevada, which is a town that is falling apart...literally. The gypsum mine is closing; therefore, the whole town is shutting down and people are relocating. Thankfully, Ben has a ticket out - a track scholarship to University of California where he has a full ride. His best friends, Hog Boy and Pete, aren't going away to college and this has complicated their relationship with Ben. One of his last days at home, Pete and Hog Boy take Ben to get his fortune read by a hot girl they saw on the side of the highway. Lala is said "hot girl" and she is a Gypsy or Romani. She makes money for her family by reading fortunes and her family has decided to take the opportunity to do this in Gypsum since so many people are attending the Burning Man festival nearby. Lala is engaged to Romeo, but she wants more for her life as her parents have arranged this marriage. Obviously, her parents have complete control, but Lala can't deny the small spark inside her that is telling her to spread her wings. Once she meets subsequently reads Ben's fortune, everything changes from here on out for Lala. Elana K. Arnold's Burning has an interesting premise; plus, it deals with the Romani culture, which I find fascinating. However, it ultimately left me feeling flat.
Ben and his friends seemed realistic to me including everything right down to their crude dialogue. I wouldn't necessarily put this on my classroom bookshelf because of this, but nonetheless, we know this is how some boys (and girls!) talk. I applaud Arnold for depicting characters that aren't wealthy and families that have to deal with serious issues that families across America are dealing with today, such as losing a job, businesses shutting down, families moving, etc. I liked Ben because he was different than his friends. He had high hopes for his life, but still felt guilty leaving his friends behind. Ben had an interesting relationship with his family and was very protective of his younger brother, James. Let's just say that Ben has some major anger issues he needs to work out -- some which stem from standing up for his brother.
When I read Lala's chapters (each chapter alternated between Ben and Lala's points of view), I felt like a caged bird. She so desperately wanted more for her life and was often found on her own reading classics like The Catcher in the Rye. She is unlike the other members of her family who view females as the inferior gender; they are supposed to cater to the males and their mother-in-laws. Also, Burning explored a new topic for me: the Romani people and culture or as we commonly refer to the as Gypsies. I didn't know much about them before reading Burning, but I found it very captivating. I felt for Lala and I think Arnold did a good job depicting how constricting that lifestyle can be.
My issues with Burning stem from the insta-love between Ben and Lala. Seriously, this book has such a bad case of insta-love; infact, it reminded me of Romeo and Juliet with the whole love-at-first-sight....I'm so infatuated....I'm- going-to-stalk-you type of behavior. It happened so quickly and unfortunately, I wasn't completely on board when the insta-love train left the station.
For me, the best part of Burning is the fact that Arnold explores the Romani culture, which as you know, I find fascinating. But she also focuses on family's expectations vs. finding your own path in life; Elana's journey is really about self-discovery and coming of age. I like that Lala knew she wanted more than to marry Romeo, raise children, take orders from her mother-in-law. She went for her dream at all costs and I think this message can resonant with many young adults.
All in all, Burning was definitely a middle of the road type of read for me and although I found a Romani main character to be fascinating, the book still left me feeling rather indifferent.