Burn

 
Disturbing novel explores the aftermath of bullying.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

After bullies write that "Cameron Diaz loves" Cameron's best friend on the bathroom wall, his friend won't talk to him anymore and says "I'm no fag. Stay away from me." When another boy who is bullied talks to him, Cameron "digs around inside himself for a little compassion and comes up empty." A disturbed boy in Cameron's class digs a paperclip into his own palm until blood drips onto his desk. Cameron's grades drop because he can't concentrate at school because of the bullying. Cameron tells a teacher, "You're an ass." Cameron feels empowered by setting fires, which he believes proves "he has bigger balls." After killing a boy, Cameron goes to PE class. Cameron dismisses any feelings of remorse: "I killed someone. But it was only Pinon. The kid was a pervert." He insists "he did the only thing he could do." Cameron's mother burns his clothes, which are evidence in the case. He questions her ability to protect him or fix things.

Violence

Cameron is emotionally and physically bullied at school by football players who call him "Cameron Diaz" and say he is gay. He is always fearful at school and the bullies roam in packs, taunting and beating kids. A friend of Cameron's is beaten so badly he ends up in the hospital. Bullies hold Cameron and take pictures of him naked in the locker room that they post on the Internet; there is the suggestion of sexual assault but no graphic description. Cameron likes to play with fire, throws a lit match on his brother's shirt, starts a fire in a school trash can, and lights an abandoned car on fire and burns part of a city park. Cameron carries a knife to school so he can cut the bully's throat. He kills another boy by smashing a metal lock into his skull.

Sex

Cameron hears stories about a boy "making it with two girls at the same time ... girls giving head in the boys' bathroom." Cameron wants to write "Rich Patterson sucks dick" on an overpass.

Language

"Fag," "piss off," "s--t," "dick," "asshole," "peckerhead," "hell," "f--king," "damn."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Cameron hangs out in front of the liquor store, hoping someone will "toss him a can of beer from his six-pack." Cameron drinks so much "he couldn't feel the ground under his feet the whole way home." Cameron's dad was a violent drunk who hit the boys and their mother.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know this is a compelling story about bullying, fear, and violence. Written from the perspective of a victim of domestic violence and school bullying, the novel walks a thin line between creating a sympathetic character and condoning his resulting act of aggression. The narrative is nearly relentless in portraying Cameron's sense of helplessness (adult intervention just makes the situation worse; when the bully is expelled, Cameron still insists, "He runs the school") to the point where teens in similar situations may wonder if there really is any hope. The idea of being gay -- or "acting the fag" -- is portrayed in a negative way. Cameron feels powerful and even joyful when lighting fire. The character's desperation and lack of remorse make this a choice for older teens, and one that's worth discussing.

What's the story?

High school is a dangerous place for 14-year-old Cameron, a slightly built freshman who is emotionally and physically tormented by a bigger, older football player and his cronies. Cameron, already a child of a dysfunctional family, copes with his anger by burning himself with matches. A final assault by the bullies pushes Cameron to the point where his own actions blur with the violence against him.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

In BURN, Phillips adeptly gets into Cameron's head, effectively conveying the "can't-do-anything-about-it hopelessness building inside him" as school bullies step up their assaults. Adult readers will certainly hope no school allows this sort of violence, but Phillips doesn't offer many solutions to her grim situation. Teachers, parents, and counselors are ineffectual, if not dismissive of the gravity of the abuse.

It's a morally troubling book; readers want to sympathize with Cameron even as he becomes more and more emotionally disturbed. Secondary characters aren't well developed; perhaps this is intentional to emphasize Cameron's isolated perspective. When Cameron physically lashes out at another teen, the author seems inclined to forgive Cameron, with questionably little account for his victim. His guilt, in the eyes of the court, lies in his intention. Readers will have to decide if they agree that is justice or not.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about bullying at school and possible ways students can protect themselves. Cameron says there are no second chances in high school -- do teens believe this is true? Should Cameron have asked to change high schools? An adult insists that "it is humanly impossible, at the age of 14, to know the complete ramifications of an act that was spontaneous and defensive in nature." What do teens think? Do teens agree with the sentence the judge gives Cameron?

Book details

Author:Suzanne Phillips
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:November 1, 2008
Number of pages:288
Publisher's recommended age(s):12
Read aloud:14
Read alone:14

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 16 years old Written byhtswimmer April 12, 2011
age 14+
 

Great.

This book is one of the best I've read. It really shapes the reality of bullying. I just kept turning the pages to find out what happened next. I really liked the plot; it intrigued me. Very good story :). But I would only recommend to those in high school and age 14+.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Educational value
Teen, 14 years old Written byluckyman4327 October 13, 2010
age 14+
 

this is a book good for all ages in the high school grades from 9-12

i like the book i thought that the book is really good i like it i really recoend the book to all the people that like the really good mysterys and thing s like hat i liked the book have a good time reading it
What other families should know
Too much consumerism
Great role models
Teen, 14 years old Written bywalkingtalkingl... November 19, 2009
age 13+
 

Okay

It was okay. If you like books about bullying, this would be one of the best ones out there, but sometimes I feel they are redundant. It is an interesting look into a seemingly new type of self-destruction and rehabilitation.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages

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