________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 4 . . . . October 10, 2008



Rebecca Donner. Illustrated by Inaki Miranda.
New York, NY: Minx (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada), 2008.
147 pp., pbk., $11.99.
ISBN 978-1-4012-1537-8.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

***½ /4


On the front cover of Burnout is a photo of a book of matches burning with a steady single flame; below the photo is a graphic of a young woman, Danni, attired in the standard adolescent everyday uniform of jeans, hoodie, running shoes. She holds a single match in one hand, and in the other, she holds her index finger over the flame. 

“Sometimes, when I’m alone . . . I try to see how long I can stand it. One one-thousand . . .two one-thousand and then, the match burns down to her finger and she winces in pain …

After her father’s desertion, Danni and her mother, Wynona, moved to Elk River, Oregon, a logging town, population of 401. Wynona gets a waitressing job at Hank’s Hunting Lodge, and after a while, Mom also gets Hank, lodge owner, alcoholic, abusive, and always, always angry.  Added to the mix is Haskell, Hank’s son, with whom Danni has to share a room, and worst of all, a bathroom. Haskell is certainly more sensitive than his father -  he offers to put ice on the massive bruise Wynona develops from tripping over a massive trunk sitting in the middle of the attic which is the shared bedroom – but Haskell has his moods, too. The wall on his side of the room is plastered with news clippings about eco-terrorism and his comment, after settling in with his new roommate, is succinct: “This sucks.” Later in the dead of night, he sneaks out of the house, rappels down the side of the building, and heads off into the darkness.

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     Cut to the next day where Danni and best friend Viv are heading down the highway in Viv’s beat-up truck, off for another day at Elk River Regional High School. Viv bears more than a passing resemblance to the young woman on the package of “Guitar Hero” and plays in a band with several guys from school; she’s “a major math whiz, she doesn’t want to go to college.” Certainly, with her trash mouth and tarty outfits, she’s a rocker chick; nevertheless, she displays extraordinary math skills by developing complex formulae which calculate the probability that her boring history teacher (why are history teachers always boring in YA novels, anyway?) will stare at her perky bosom, or the likelihood that if Danni expends sufficient flirtation energy, she and Haskell will “almost definitely hook up. I mean, duh, it’s totally mathematical.”

     Well, there’s no question that Haskell is a broodingly handsome hunk, but he is focused completely on whatever draws him from the lodge every night. One night, Danni summons her courage, takes Viv’s advice, and “seriously stalks him.” Haskell is an eco-terrorist: he pounds spikes into trees, and because the spikes break the blades of loggers’ chainsaws, logging companies avoid cutting spiked trees, lessening their profits and forcing them to leave trees standing. Haskell cares passionately about the ecosystem, and he soon has Danni convinced that such extreme measures are the only solution in the war against the rapacious logging companies. After Danni confides in Viv about her unusual evening adventures with Haskell, Viv points out that saving the forest will destroy the economy of Elk River; and, as for the spikes, that’s how Danni’s uncle lost some fingers. “Suddenly, things got complicated. Vivian had a point . . . but so did Haskell.”And Haskell’s plans for sabotage are becoming both increasingly ambitious and increasingly dangerous.

     By now, it is clear that this is a story that is not going to end happily for anyone. The last few pages find Danni and Wynona, on the road again, “starting over again. From scratch.” Sitting in yet another boring history class, in a new school, she listens to a history lesson from the 60’s, when the underground group, the Weathermen, used various guerilla tactics, including bombing of numerous public buildings, to gain attention. And Danni thinks about Haskell: “Sometimes you had to do something extreme for people to take notice. That’s what Haskell told me. It’s true. But here’s what’s also true: Sometimes when you cross that line . . . you can never go back.”

     Burnout was a powerful graphic novel, and it will grab non-readers and keep them going until the last pages of the story. It has sex , (no drugs), rock and roll, and plenty of profanity. The adults are imperfect (and at times, a bit stereotypical), but the adolescents are genuine in their sassiness (Viv), their idealism (Haskell), and their confusion (Danni). The eco-terrorism content makes the story contemporary, and the high school history classroom scenes remind us that terrorism is not a twenty-first century phenomenon. Most of all, there are plenty of kids like Danni, living difficult lives, and trying to make the best sense that they can of their situation.  Read the book before you put it out for circulation (because once it’s out, you might not have another chance), and be prepared to replace it quickly.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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