Burn Baby Burn

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
Burn Baby Burn Book Poster Image
Riveting coming-of-age tale set in dangerous summer of '77.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the early days of the feminist movement and gain insight into the diversity of the immigrant experience: Nora’s mother struggles with English; her father, Frederico, has reinvented himself as the Americanized "Rick"; and her boyfriend Pablo’s family comes from a privileged life in Colombia. 

Positive Messages

Circumstances don’t have to determine your future.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nora stands up to the neighborhood drug dealer and her abusive brother. When the time comes for Nora to choose a path for her future, she has the courage to choose the one who offers her a real chance to change her life for the better. The family’s African American neighbor, Stiller, is a feminist activist at a time when women (and especially women of color) were expected to be seen and not heard. 


While the specter of a serial killer on the loose provides a frightening background to the story, there are no graphic details of the Son of Sam killings. Nora's brother Hector has a history of violence dating from the time he was a small child. He's physically abusive (grabbing, shoving, hitting) toward Nora and their mother. During the blackout, there's looting across New York City. A boy sets a devastating fire.


It's noted that Nora has lost her virginity (and regrets doing so with a former boyfriend). Nora and her best friend talk about having sex. There's kissing between Nora and her boyfriend, Pablo.


Occasional use of "crap," "piss," "f--k," "bulls--t," and "dyke."


1970s brands and artists throughout. Characters drive Camaros, Monte Carlos, and Impalas, listen to Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, and the Ramones, and learn to type on IBM Selectrics.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A drug dealer lives in the basement of Nora’s apartment building, and Hector uses marijuana and cocaine. Two of the characters smoke, and there are two instances of moderate beer drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Burn Baby Burn is a coming-of-age story set in New York City during the summer of 1977. For 17-year-old Cuban American Nora Lopez, it's a fearful time. At home, her single mother can't pay the rent, and her brother Hector is physically abusive. On the streets of her neighborhood, there's even more to fear -- fires set by arsonists, looting, and a serial killer named the Son of Sam on the loose. The novel interweaves issues still at the forefront of American life -- cultural diversity, racial tensions, domestic violence, drugs, and equality for women -- with the compelling story of a teen trying to find her way forward to a better life.

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Teen, 17 years old Written bychaneller216362 April 28, 2016

It is a good book.

I say it is a good book because there is a 17 teen girl name Nora Lopez who is turning 18. So at that time she wants to moves out, but she can't. Nora live... Continue reading

What's the story?

In BURN BABY BURN, 17-year-old Nora Lopez has the odds stacked against her. Her single mother is close to going under financially, her drug-taking younger brother is abusive to both Nora and her mother, her father has remarried and pays scant attention to her, and she doesn’t see much of a future for herself after she graduates from high school. While her best friend, Kathleen, is excited about going to college, Nora continues to resist pleas from her high school guidance counselor to submit college applications for herself. The one bright spot in Nora's life is a college boy named Pablo, who works with her at a local deli. Their budding romance plays out against a background of one of the most violent summers in New York City history. A serial killer named the Son of Sam is randomly shooting young couples -- couples exactly like Nora and Pablo, buildings are being torched by arsonists, and a blackout unleashes a torrent of looting. 

Is it any good?

A Latina teenager in New York City fights for her future in this gripping and relatable coming-of-age novel set against actual events during the summer of 1977. The characters who live in Nora's multiethnic Queens neighborhood are never stereotypical and provide readers with powerful lessons on race, cultural diversity, and the beginnings of feminism.

The iconic 1970s people, music, and movies (disco, Star Wars, and Farah Fawcett) woven into the story provide a bright and sometimes lighthearted contrast to the often dark times in Nora's life. Throughout the book, McCormick keeps the story focused on Nora and her struggles and never lets her become overshadowed by the sensational happenings of the summer. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about abusive family relationships. Do you know anyone who is being threatened or physically harmed by a sibling? If your friend is too frightened or ashamed to tell someone, should you keep their secret or ask an adult for help?

  • Serial killers are often the subject of movies and TV shows. Why do you think audiences are so fascinated by them?

  • Do you have friends whose families have immigrated to the United States? How have their experiences been different from (or similar to) the characters in the novel?

Book details

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For kids who love coming-of-age and diverse stories

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