Review–Burning by Elana K. Arnold

by Elana K. Arnold
Summary: Ben: Having just graduated from high school, Ben is set to leave Gypsum, Nevada. It's good timing since the gypsum mine that is the lifeblood of the area is closing, shutting the whole town down with it. Ben is lucky: he's headed to San Diego, where he's got a track scholarship at the University of California. But his best friends, Pete and Hog Boy, don't have college to look forward to, so to make them happy, Ben goes with them to check out the hot chick parked on the side of Highway 447. 
Lala: She and her Gypsy family earn money by telling fortunes. Some customers choose Tarot cards; others have their palms read. The thousands of people attending the nearby Burning Man festival spend lots of cash--especially as Lala gives uncanny readings. But lately Lala's been questioning whether there might be more to life than her upcoming arranged marriage. And the day she reads Ben's cards is the day that everything changes for her. . . and for him.

Source: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.



Burning was not a love story in the traditional sense. Instead, it was a story about freedom, choices, and life. It was beautiful, interesting, and captivating. Burning was about growth and ways of life. While love was the pivotal emotion, it was only a catalyst. There was less action and exchanges and more insight and introspection.

I thought Burning was beautiful. I found myself enchanted by Lala and her way of life, eager to learn more about her culture and her own inner thoughts. I loved Ben and the way he looked at the world and cared about his family and friends.

I loved that Burning was about choices and how certain events cause us to make choices that impact our future. It was one of those stories that was bittersweet and makes you think hard about the choices we make and the way different paths overlap with other people’s paths and so on. I really loved the depth that Burning had to it.

I was surprised by the way the story shifted in Burning once certain choices were made. I was shocked by the way Ben’s mom viewed love and I think that moment was the turning point in the book where my admiration for the story faded and I got a little sad. I still admire the direction of the story and I love what the overall themes were, especially identity and independence.

Slight Spoiler (kind of):

Lala probably did the right thing and I loved it and completely respected her, but I also thought the story trivialized first loves in the same way that most people typically do. I think this aspect of Burning is something most people will enjoy, but it just disappointed me a little bit. The overall message is more about how your first love, though not necessarily your last or a permanent one changes you. I’m one of those people who typically argue that love isn’t necessarily fleeting just because it’s new or young or impossible. Certain things aren’t always phases in life or stepping stones. They can be permanent and that’s okay. And Burning didn’t really say that love wasn’t real, in fact it was very real, but it did imply that it fleeting to some degree.

My own personal views about young and impossible love get in the way of me truly loving the book, despite having a lot of respect for it. I admire Lala, but I thought her perspective in the end was lacking the bigger picture and she viewed Ben as weight even though he was part of the reason for her freedom. I think a lot of people will prefer her perspective because it was true to some degree, but I felt like she was limiting herself by viewing the situation the way she did. Or maybe I just prefer characters (and real people) to fight for what they love and not look at first loves as just a passing thing or a necessary hurdle to get over. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. As always, in my attempt to be fair, I think the fact that the story made me go into my own tangent about first loves is a good thing, so I didn't lower my rating because of it.

End of Slight Spoiler

I highly recommend Burning, especially if you’re in the mood for a sweet story with tons of reflection and insight into love, identity, and life. It is also a perfect summer read.


Labels: ,