title: Burn Baby Burn
author: Meg Medina
date: Candlewick Press; 2016
main character: Nora Lopez
I was in my second year of college at the University of Cincinnati in 1977 so, I recognize the music, the fashions and the language of that time. I recognized that disco ball on the cover of Burn Baby Burn but with that flame coming from the top near the wire that would suspend it from the ceiling, it looked more like a bomb.
But, because I was not in New York City during that summer, I didn’t live with that fear of the Son of Sam. Nora Lopez, a Latinx of Cuban heritage, is a 17 year old high school senior in this period piece who lives in New York City and is living in that fear. She finds there are monsters everywhere. “The real dangers are often closer than we’d like to admit”. (back cover)
Medina seems to write for girls like herself who are growing up in urban environments. These girls are steeped in street literacy far more than they’re even aware’ they can almost intuit situations. Nora, and her BFF Kathleen MacInerney, a white girl of Irish heritage, can read tones of voice and body language as well as they can talk slang and maneuver a busy city street. But, as the girls approach their 18th birthday, their literacy skills are on overload with their awareness of the world around them increasing at the same time as the dangers in their world. As important as realizing where the dangers are is identifying who will provide protection. Medina’s array of characters explore how gender, education and financial stability allow adults the means to guard those in their world.
Nora lives with her mother and younger brother, Hector. There are monsters everywhere, even in her home. Hector’s emotional instability rules their home while their mother’s precarious job situation causes further unease. Nora does not feel safe in her own home.
I toss and turn as I try to fall asleep, but I keep imagining sounds outside my window. Is it the wind, or is someone climbing the rusted rungs of the fire escape? The blinds move, but it could be a draft. I don’t dare get up to check. Instead, I back against the wall and stare at the blinds, waiting for the sound of a crowbar splintering wood. When I finally drift to sleep, a stranger follows me into my dreams.
He’s not a burglar. It’s the serial killer.
Click. Click. Blood splatters the wall like it did in Carrie. I try to scream, but no one hears me at all. (p.50)
She’s not hopeless! She’s got her BFF and a job at a local bodega where the owner is very much a father figure. And, there’s that cute new stock boy, Pablo. I particularly liked that Nora found her passion in carpentry work. In Burn Baby Burn, Nora continues to learn about reading people and situations, now through more mature eyes.
Burn Baby Burn, released in March, has received the following recognition.
In the Margins 2016 Book Awards List
Booklist Top 10 Books for Youth 2016, Historical Fiction
The Kirkus Prize 2016 Nominee, Young Adult
National Book Awards: Young People’s Literature, 2016 Longlist
SLJ’s Best Books of 2016, Young Adult
New York Public Library 2016 50 Best Books for Teens, Fiction
National Public Radio’s Guide to 2016 Great Reads
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016, Teen
Amazon Best Book of 2016