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BOOK REVIEW: Burning by Danielle Rollins

| 1 July 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Burning by Danielle Rollins

July 2016
Paperback, $17.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult



The hero in my father’s stories was always the same little boy. He was so boring and so dumb that you almost rooted for him to be eaten. Almost. The monsters, though. They were brutal, complicated things. They gambled away their souls at the local racetracks and made bargains with the witches who lived behind the school playground. My father’s monsters were works of art.

Angela Davis is three months away from being released from juvie, and is being extra careful not to get in trouble or do anything else that might prolong her stay at Brunesfield Correctional Facility – a place where each room sets its own temperature, and certain buildings make you feel like you’re being watched by something… other.

Cara thinks the grounds are haunted. She says the trees sneak closer at night, and that if you listen, you can hear screams echoing through the woods. But Cara also believes that UFOs crashed here in the sixties and that Bigfoot lives in Canada.

When you aren’t actually there, it’s hard to remember why the Seg Block is so creepy. They’re small things. Sounds don’t behave like you expect them to. Light never seems to reach the corners where light is supposed to reach. You’ll hear something skitter across the floor, but when you turn to look, you only see shadows and cobwebs.

But then ten-year-old Jessica arrives, in shackles so tight she can’t descend the steps of the van without assistance, and is sent straight to segregation. Rumours abound among the other inmates about what she did to wind up there, and strange things begin happening when Jessica is around.

The air vibrates, like it’s buzzing with electricity. It reminds me of how the sky gets just before lightning strikes.
Black fills Jessica’s eyes, blocking every bit of white. Her breathing grows ragged, her chest expanding and collapsing like a paper bag.
I swallow a scream and leap up, stumbling back against the wall. Jessica keeps those black eyes pinned on me. My skin starts to grow warm. Then hot.

But that’s not the only thing that’s changing…
There’s a new doctor involved in the running of the facility. A doctor who claims she wants to help some of the girls get into the exclusive SciGirls program, and who has a special interest in Jessica.

“I was hoping I might recommend she be placed in your dorm room. You have an extra bed, correct?”
What?” I picture that little girl in my room, watching me sleep with those black eyes. I stand so quickly that my chair wobbles back, nearly falling. She’s unnatural. I don’t want her near me – near my friends.
“No,” I say, my voice cracking. “You can’t do that.”


The buzz surrounding Burning suggests it’s a cross between Orange is the New Black: Juvie Style and Firestarter, and there are elements of both of these to be sure, what with the girl who is connected to fire-related events, and all the inmate stories.

But, unfortunately, the story delivered doesn’t quite match up to what is promised in the blurb.

  • For starters, the blurb begins with the line “After three years in juvie, Angela Davis is now months away from release” while the Angela of the book has been in juvie for just eighteen months.
  • Angela was super gullible/ignorant and had to see things many many times and then have them spelled out for her by another character before she “worked out” what was going on. While the reader was able to figure it out by the second mention, if not the first.
  • In terms of pacing, though Jessica arrived at the facility on page eleven, and though some events happened in between that hinted at a little something creepy, nothing really began to escalate until almost two thirds of the way through the story.
  • At some point it stopped feeling like a prison story, and started feeling like a story set in a kind’ve strict boarding-school for only-a-little-bit-difficult girls.
  • It wasn’t scary. Not even a little bit.

The girls in this prison had no street smarts, they didn’t look suspiciously at a situation that was too good to be true, and pretty much every single one of them fell easily into a cult-like study group. With the exception of a couple of fights or arguments, there was really nothing here to suggest that many of these girls grew up on the rough side of town or committed terrible crimes to end up here, though it is stated that they did.


For all these issues with pacing, lack of character development, and lack of world-building, I still found it an interesting read, done in a matter of days, and there were definitely some heartwarming moments and gorgeous combinations of words that were just… raw, and powerful, and beautiful.

I wait for her to say more, but she doesn’t. I don’t ask her why she used past tense – liked, not likes – or why her dad only took her to see the monster trucks once or what he’s doing now. I know that dads sometimes don’t want to be dads anymore.


Fourteen-year-old me would probably have adored this book, and would have been proud to shelve it with her Point Crime and Fear Street titles. Sadly, anyone older than that will probably find the telling a little immature, and the scenarios a little too… convenient.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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