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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Burn, written by Alma Fullerton. Dancing Cat, Cormorant, 2010. $12.95 ages 10 and up

I overhear doctors saying
I'm lucky.
Other than my hand,
I'm not burned,
but inside me
Is so

I got the news recently that burn has been nominated for CLA Book of the Year! What glorious and well-deserved news that is. It was one of the books that we read this winter for the CCBC Best Books for Kids and Teens junior fiction jury and we all loved it. I have read it twice now (I rarely have time to do that) and it lost none of its impact the second time around. I have a clearer picture of Casey and the pressures she is facing, the conflicts that result from events beyond her control and the resulting grief she feels for her loss.

Bravo Alma Fullerton!

When Casey was young and her mother went on a music tour, Casey always went with her. Now, she is married again and has a new daughter. The pull of her music has not subsided despite her dramatically changed circumstances; and one day, she can't ignore it any longer. She makes the decision to leave the family and try her hand at a new album.

Casey, at eleven, is left to keep things normal at home. No one calms Ginny in the same way that their mother can; but, Casey does all in her power to keep her autistic sister's world orderly and without upsets. John, her stepfather, can barely control his own grief, using his restaurant as the excuse for not being home and alcohol to dull the pain. Casey trusts that her mother will soon be home. When she doesn't Casey takes action. To let her know how much she is needed, Casey lights fires in hopes that the smoke signals will reach her mother and warn her that things with the family are not good.

As her anxiety grows, Casey finds herself less able to hide behind the many household chores and the continual care for a demanding autistic sister that she undertakes in an effort to prove herself worthy. She is so real and vivid, painted with wondrous words and aching for our support and understanding. Ginny is defined by her autism; but the author pens her obsessive behaviors with sympathy and often with humor. Casey's mother is caught in a trap of her own making and cannot face the prospect of living the rest of her life without her music. The stepfather John sees his role as providing for the girls, working hard at his restaurant and thus, avoiding the uncomfortable responsibilities of fatherhood.

Using free verse as her paintbrush Alma Fullerton gifts us with these unforgettable characters and a story that will resonate with all who read it. Original and heartwarming, this is a book that should be shared or read with all middle and high school students.

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