Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Burn Book Poster Image
Absorbing, violent fantasy brings dragons into the 1950s.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fantasy meant to entertain. It may inspire curiosity about U.S./Soviet relations during the Cold War and the beginnings of the space race.

Positive Messages

Your role in life and the events surrounding you may turn out to be different from what you expected, but can still be rewarding. Humanity's desire to always reach for something more, something better, is where the real magic in the world lies.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sarah is a positive role model for courage, integrity, perseverance. Her mother was Black, her father is White, so she's a positive representation especially for dark-skinned young women. Jason, whose parents are Japanese, is a positive model for loyalty, perseverance, courage. They experience systemic and overt, personal racism. Effects of living with it are a minor theme. Malcolm is a trained assassin on a mission but has a conscience and struggles with cost of fulfilling his mission. When he falls in love, he becomes a positive representation of a gay man with no hangups about sexuality. Caring, helpful adults (e.g., parents, a librarian). A federal agent and a small-town sheriff are villains.


Real-world violence includes gunshots, stabbing, and fights with kicking, punching, choking. Police brutality: hitting and breaking bones with a baton, sexual assault, pistol whipping. Blood and pain described briefly. Fantasy violence includes large-scale destruction and massive deaths and casualties that mention burning human flesh and fat, using blood for a magic ritual, and humans being eaten and burned to death by a dragon. A past attempted sexual assault is remembered, described vaguely as a man "taking himself out" and trying to force the victim's face downward.


A few kisses, one same-sex and a couple opposite- sex. One kiss is described briefly. Having a "woody" mentioned. Caressing below the waist mentioned but not described. Some romantic feelings and dynamics.


"F--ker," "s--tbag," "hell," "goddammit," "slut," "whore," "dipstick," and the homophobic slur "fruit."


One mention of a Chevron station.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A bad guy chews tobacco; there's an unpleasant description of his spit. A good guy smokes once or twice; a couple of mentions of the smell.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Burn is a dragon fantasy set in the United States in the 1950s by veteran YA author Patrick Ness. Fantasy violence is mostly large-scale destruction by a dragon burning people and buildings, and eating people and animals. There's no gore, but burning flesh and fat are mentioned. Real-world violence includes fights and some police brutality, with mention of broken bones, blood, and brief or vague descriptions of pain. A past attempted sexual assault is remembered. Weapons include guns, rifles, and blades as well as military guns and artillery. There are a few kisses and a same-sex relationship that mentions caressing below the waist and implied sex. Strong language isn't frequent but includes "f--ker," "s--tbag," "slut," and "fruit." A mixed-race main character and an important character who's parents are from Japan provide positive representations. Systemic and individual, personal racism are not a central theme, but examples show how both kinds are part of the characters' lives. The Cold War setting and the launching of a Russian spy satellite may inspire curiosity about the history of U.S.-Soviet relations and the early days of the space race.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bymamabear03 October 22, 2020

Sexual encounter in chapter 8 is not for kids

In chapter seven of the book (not sure of the page #) one character asks the other character of he has a woody.

Most of the pornography begins in chapter 8.... Continue reading
Adult Written byJillcass November 23, 2020

Would recommend!

Great book! Super interesting plot, exploration of racism, sexism, and homophobia, AND a fun villain. There are some sexy scenes, but they aren't really ex... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byRachel6521 May 9, 2021


There are definitely references to certain topics that many parents or guardians may not be okay with certain children reading, but other than that Burn is a f... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMidnightboknerd April 19, 2021


i really liked it, for older kids though.

What's the story?

BURN tells the story of Sarah Dewhurst, who's almost 16 in 1957 and lives in a small town in Washington on her father's farm. Since her mother died, she and her father are barely able to make ends meet and keep the farm afloat, so they hire a dragon named Kazimir to come help them clear some land for planting. Despite warnings from her father not to interact with the powerful and supposedly soulless creature, Sarah's curiosity draws her to learn more about Kazimir, and about how he knows so much about her already, and why he seems so protective of Sarah. It seems an ancient dragon prophecy is starting to prove true, and is going to be fulfilled right on the Dewhurst farm. To learn the truth behind it, Sarah, her loved ones, and Kazimir will have to face a deadly assassin from a dragon-worshipping cult, a brutal town deputy, a couple of FBI agents on the assassin's trail, and the rampaging goddess of dragons herself.

Is it any good?

This is an absorbing fantasy with an unusual 1950s U.S. setting that combines suspenseful detective fiction, coming-of-age, science fiction, and of course, dragons. There's magic, but not the kind you'd expect to go along with castles, knights, wizards, and round tables. Veteran author Patrick Ness skillfully weaves together themes as wide ranging as the Cold War, cult worship, alternative universes, the power of prophecy, and where the real magic in the world lies.

Things slow down a bit when the author explains, and some readers might feel he explains too much, about how the magic, the prophecy, and alternative universes work. But, overall, the plot moves along well. One of Ness' strengths is his fully developed characters. The good guys are easy to relate to and root for, and the bad guys have real dimension so you "get" them without liking them or what they do. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Burn. How much is too much? Does it matter if it's fantasy violence or real-world? Why, or why not?

  • Why is it important to have positive representations of different types of people in books, movies, TV, etc.? Which characters are good role models? In what way?

  • What are some examples of racism that Sarah and Jason experience? Do the same kinds of things happen today? Have we as a society changed much since the 1950s? If so, how? If not, why not?

Book details

  • Author: Patrick Ness
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Topics: Magic and Fantasy, History
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • Publication date: June 2, 2020
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
  • Number of pages: 384
  • Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: July 22, 2020

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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