How to Set a Fire and Why

Jesse Ball. Pantheon, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-101-87057-0
The beautifully blunt narration of a gifted delinquent propels this excellent sixth novel from the author of A Cure for Suicide. Orphaned after the death of her father and her mother’s subsequent institutionalization, young Lucia Stanton finds herself expelled from high school (the specific location of which is never given) for stabbing a star athlete with a pencil. Entrusted to the care of her elderly, sagely aunt, Lucia transfers to Whistler High, where, in the form of a secret arson society, she discovers an outlet for her inner turmoil. Penning her own pamphlet on fire starting (the titular “How To Set a Fire and Why”), Lucia details a philosophy that smartly parallels the novel’s own—namely, that writing literature is, like arson, an act of creation and destruction. The few successful friendships and personal bonds Lucia makes are swiftly undone by a late-act tragedy, but, in the book’s pyromaniacal finale, Lucia finds a thrilling form of freedom. In an age of blandly interchangeable YA narrators, this novel is a song of teenage heartbreak sung with a movingly particular sadness, a mature meditation on how actually saying something, not just speaking, is what most makes a voice human. Agent: Becky Sweren, Kuhn Projects. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/04/2016
Release date: 07/05/2016
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-1-101-91175-4
Paperback - 294 pages - 978-1-925355-47-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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