September 8, 2015

(Netgalley) ARC Review: Burn Girl by Mandy Mikulencak

Burn GirlBurn Girl by Mandy Mikulencak
Rating: /5

*I received digital ARC of this book from Albert Whitman & Company through Netgalley*

Pub. Date: September 1st, 2015

Get a copy here!

At first, I was a little worried that this book would be that kind of dark read that would take me into a dreadful state. I’m glad that it’s more like a sad read than depressing. In fact, it wasn’t entirely sad because the story actually emanates a feeling of hopeful for those who read it. Or at least that’s what the author initially wanted to relay through this story.

Burn Girl tells a story about Arlie, a flawed girl with sixteen years of dark memories trying to live a ‘normal’ life for the first time. The opening scene was Arlie narrating a story when she found her mom’s lifeless body in their motel room. By the indifference in Arlie’s tone, we could see how her mother’s death only affected her very little than it was supposed to be. Arlie had been a tough girl her entire life, being a hardly-ever-sober meth addict’s daughter. She had to take a random job at such a young age to support their lives while at the same time taking care of her mother every time she went high. When her mother decided to live a nomadic life in Durango by moving from one motel to another trying to dodge the chase of an ex-husband, Arlie left school for good. She often thought of running away but at some points she would eventually come back. Living with her addict mom was no different than having no mom; none of them is a better choice than each other. So it was a little weird for her to feel sad when the person who’s dead is the very person who always gives her a hard time. All she felt was this hollowness of not knowing what to do and where to go after years of hiding from the world.

The last great thing happened to Arlie was from five years ago when she met a quirky girl over the motel’s dumpster. Meeting Mo, a girl who declared herself as a friend on their first encounter was the first step that made Arlie feels like a normal sixteen years old girl. Mo had not been only loyal but she introduced her to a life a teenage girl supposed to have. It didn’t take long before Arlie and Mo became a solid best friend. I am touched by the friendship they built over years. Mo is everything Arlie isn’t. But that’s where a strong friendship usually comes from. The author creates Mo’s character so lovable. Her character is a perfect picture of best friend a girl could ever have. I think she might be the most selfless side-character I ever read. It was lucky of Arlie that among all of the chaos she still had Mo, the last string that made everything bearable for her.

Arlie was sure now that her mother had died, she would eventually end up in a foster home knowing that she might be the last person in their barely existing family tree. But when someone named Frank from Texas claimed he was Arlie’s mom’s brother, she realized that maybe, just maybe, her life would be all different now.

With companies of a weird yet kind-hearted uncle she never knew about, a best-friend who never left and a boy who could never saw the world yet able to help her see one, Arlie had to face a brand new chapter of her life as a normal girl with a normal life. It might sound easy but when the ghost from her past kept haunting her every step, Arlie realized that sometimes it takes more than just a self-bravery to fight your demon. Sometimes, you have to let others in so you can all fight them together ‘till the end.

Even though Arlie’s literally the ‘victim’ here, it’s kind of hard for me to really connect with her. She kept getting on my nerves all the time. I understand the wary feeling Arlie constantly felt toward the ‘new life’ she was about to face considering how happiness seemed so far away from her reach for years. I want it so bad to sympathize with her circumstance. But she made it difficult by keep shutting out people who truly cared for her. She constantly pushed people away because she believed that everything was just a camouflage that would disappear from her sight at some point. Moreover when she tried to be all tough and brave, for me it just came out as reckless and very irresponsible of her. Truthfully, I liked her character much better when her mother was still alive. The Arlie ‘before’ was so mature and reliable. Reading the memories of her past, I felt so much ache for little Arlie for having to deal with ugly things her mom always did then how growing up she became this strong girl practically taking responsibility for them both. It’s just sad that the Arlie ‘after’ became kind of frustrating with her I-don’t-deserve-everyone personality.

The romance she had with Cody was really sweet. Though some people might see an irony of the pair (with Cody was blind that he couldn’t see the ugly burn scar in Arlie’s face), I like to think that they made a beautiful couple with their flaws. Cody who could never see anything in life showed Arlie that sometimes the beauty of something doesn’t always need to be seen through the eyes. Sometimes when you just close your eyes and let the other senses to work, that’s when the beauty feels even more intense. The progress of their relationship might be considered fast but I loved it alright. I just wished though that there’s a deeper background story of Cody’s character and their very first encounter.

Mo and Frank easily become my favorite characters in Burn Girl. While friendship with Mo is something to envy about, Frank offers a beautiful uncle-niece relationship to Arlie. For a man his age, Frank is really patient with Arlie’s difficult personality. I love him so much for trying so hard to give everything his sister could never give to Arlie. He showed so much effort to give his best even when Arlie least expected him to.

Even though Arlie made a lot of stupid decisions throughout the story, I liked that there was a scene that made her character somehow stand out a bit in the end. It was a little dramatic but I loved the message implied within the scene that after all Arlie was just simply a sixteen years old with a rough past; that every mistake was solely driven by her one-sided love for the mother who had disappointed her all her life. In the end, I’m glad that she finally realized her self-worth―thanks to the people who never stopped reminding her of it.

This book had a quite predictable plot and a really slow pace but I pretty enjoyed it. The amazing side-characters made the book much more interesting than its actual simple storyline. Burn Girl offers a story of a scarred girl trying to find a place in her new life while dealing with the shadow of the dark past that keeps following her everywhere.

Arlie’s story teaches us that the ugly past isn’t something you need to eliminate completely from your mind but it could be the foundation of our future strength; something to remind us that we were once survived from such breakdown and we could always do it again when we need to.

Love, read, and review,
Cynthia D.


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