The last time I checked out the “books for boys” in my local independent bookstore, I couldn’t help but notice that most of the stories on those shelves could fit into three categories: action / adventure, fantasy, funny. Not all, of course, but most. It got me thinking. Is more “realistic fiction” written and published for girls than for boys? I think that would be an interesting question to investigate because it sure seems like there are more books about real teen life and the day-to-day struggles of growing up, that are targeting girl readers compared to those written for boy readers.
L.K. Madigan’s first YA novel, Flash Burnout, is one to take note of for any teen guy who likes a story about real life – no spies with guns, no wizards, no goofball comedy (but still funny – just not all funny, all the time). The novel won this year’s William C. Morris YA Debut Award (given to the most impressive new voice in YA literature). It was up against some well-reviewed titles, so I had high expectations. It met them, quietly.
Flash Burnout is the story of Blake, a pretty ordinary kid, a nice guy. He’s a bit of a clown, always trying to get people laughing. He has a girlfriend, who is a total babe. She’s the first girl he’s ever said, “I love you” to. He’s figuring out exactly what it feels like to be with someone you care about that much. He thinks about sex, quite a bit, but he’s not sure whether he’s ready or not, and he’d really like it if his dad stopped trying to talk to him about it. Blake is also friends with a girl named Marissa from his photography class. She’s cool, and they have great conversations. She takes photos of pretty things, and he takes pictures of edgy stuff, which is why their photography teacher calls them “pretty and gritty.” By chance, Blake ends up taking a picture of Marissa’s mom on the street for photography homework, and this gets Marissa back in touch with her mom, who has been addicted to meth for a long time and has drifted in and out of Marissa’s life. The more Blake gets involved with Marissa’s messy personal life, the more he has trouble juggling time with his girlfriend and his girl friend. Flash Burnout is about love and loyalty, growing up and making mistakes, and learning how messy relationships can be.
Blake has a voice that is immediately engaging and true, which really pulls you into the story. This is a book very much focused on everyday life, the ordinary interactions that happen between family members and friends at home and at school. This means that it isn’t a fast-paced read, but it will be satisfying for someone who appreciates convincing relationships between characters and values that more than external drama. It is refreshing to read a story about such an ordinary kid. He’s not grappling with a life or death situation. He’s not tortured by his past / present experience. He’s just figuring out his life as he goes along, and is beginning to appreciate the complexity of friendship and love. I’d like to listen in on a YA book club discussion of this title, because I think it would stir up some good conversation among girl and guy readers. So remember Flash Burnout when you’re in the mood for a little real life.
Flash Burnout is published by Houghton Mifflin. This post is cross posted at Guys Lit Wire.