Verdict: MUST READ. This is like the Platonic Ideal of a great teen book: funny, heartfelt, touching, and perfectly, briskly paced.
Perfect for: Anyone who has a sense of humor and/or a sense of empathy. Also: if you are male. Also: great for anyone who wants inside information on how boys think. Spoiler: Boys are weird. And horny!
Summary (from publisher): Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who’s a girl. One of them loves him; the other one needs him. When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa’s long-lost meth addicted mom. Blake’s participation in the ensuing drama opens up a world of trouble, both for him and for Marissa. He spends the next few months trying to reconcile the conflicting roles of Boyfriend and Friend. His experiences range from the comic (surviving his dad’s birth control talk) to the tragic (a harrowing after-hours visit to the morgue). In a tangle of life and death, love and loyalty, Blake will emerge with a more sharply defined snapshot of himself.
Blake is a wonderful narrator – so engaging and funny and honest. To my ears he doesn’t sound like an adult writer trying to sound like a teen. If I were a teen, I’d totally want to be friends with him. It’s really quite amazing how many YA narrators are so unappealing that you wonder how they sustain any relationships at all. But with Blake, you understand him as a son, a brother, a boyfriend and a friend. It wouldn’t make much sense to have a sequel to this book, but I wish there could be, just to have Blake narrate some more.
This is a physically small book and at only 336 pages and plenty of margin space, the story goes by quickly. Not everyone wants to read a 400 to 600 pp. tome all the time, so this book hits the sweet spot of being a brisk, but substantial read. The story moves along quickly and every scene serves a purpose.
Despite its brevity, there is quite a lot to the story. There’s Blake’s friend Marissa dealing with a meth-addicted mom, and Blake trying to figure out how to help Marissa without being too nosy…or getting too involved himself. Then there’s Blake’s desire to, well, express his desires with his girlfriend Shannon, who often seems to be hard to read, and hard to please – especially when she starts to wonder why Blake is spending so much time with Marissa. Some pretty serious stuff happens or is revealed by the end of the story, but it all makes sense in the context of the story. Sometimes books that take on “issues” seem more exploitative than realistic (*cough cough* A Child Called It *cough cough*) but Flash Burnout deals with issues of drugs and sex in a totally believable and even relateable way.
Not only did I love Blake, I loved ALL the characters. Blake’s sometimes fickle girlfriend Shannon could have been set up to be seen as kind of a b****, but she is more complicated than that. Blake’s older and stronger brother, who bosses Blake around at every opportunity, could have been set up as a meathead bully, but instead he is an athlete who does well in school and is really interested in medical forensics, in addition to his love of fixing cars. Blake’s parents and teachers are all real, fleshed out people with distinct personalities and perspectives. All the characters are three-dimensional, even the minor ones. Huzzah!
Finally, I appreciated that the book did not neatly tie everything up and provide a happy ending for all the characters. It was a realistic ending. It was even a satisfying ending (although not for all the characters). But it was not a traditionally happy ending. Still, you get the sense that Blake has grown a lot from the events of the book, and that he will continue to be his funny, engaging, caring, inquisitive self. [end Spoiler]