The Burning

Sourcebooks/Fire. Apr. 2020. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781728206738.
Gr 9 Up–Bates’s debut novel is a contemporary social statement on the impact of bullying, peer pressure, and vicious crowd mentalities both online and in person. Anna flees England to start fresh in Scotland after being maliciously cyberbullied and blackmailed at her old school. In the digital age, physical miles mean nothing and her past quickly catches up to her. Adding a magical realism element, Bates connects Anna to the story of a local woman, Maggie, who was accused of witchcraft in the 17th century. Visions of Maggie’s life serve more as a narrative vehicle for Anna to understand that there are parallels in the social justice system in the digital age to the madness of witch hunts in the past. Addressing important topics such as peer pressure, slut-shaming, and bullying, Bates tries to navigate between storytelling and attempts to empower the reader with feminist values. It’s hard to do the subject matter justice and Bates’s attempt is clearly laudable in her research and execution.
VERDICT Bates’s twist on a cautionary tale will take readers on an emotional roller coaster, hopefully feeling stronger and less alone upon conclusion. For fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.

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