by L.K. Madigan
She flips through the photos, her face impassive. “Too bad about the flash burnout on this one.”
I look over at the shot she’s indicating. “The what?”
“The flash burnout. You got too close to the subject. So the flash overexposed her. Well, me, I mean.”
15-year-old Blake is a pretty normal guy living a pretty normal existence. He loves hanging out with his girlfriend Shannon, watching Spinal Tap, taking gritty photographs and avoiding the pictures and tools that his medical examiner father brings home. One day, though, he takes a photograph of a homeless woman passed out on the street and shows it in class. He doesn’t realize that it is friend Marissa’s mom. Suddenly, Blake’s world becomes a lot more complicated; he must try to balance his feelings for Shannon and his growing need to take care of Marissa, a girl broken by her past. Blake learns that nothing in life is simple when it comes to love and loss.
If I were to sum up L.K. Madigan’s debut novel, Flash Burnout, in one word it would be heart, because this book has it in spades. This book is so beautifully heartbreaking but at the same time, life affirming. It is a stirring and authentic testimony to how wildly confusing and wonderful and terrifying it can be to be a teenager. (Does it sound like I love this book? I do. Immensely.)
The book first introduces us to Blake – a teenage boy through and through. And wow, is he authentically written. I feel as though L.K. Madigan has some secret connection or direct line to “Boy Think” or “Boy Speak.” It is as if she opened up a teenage boy’s head and got to know everything about him. The humor, the hormones, the inner monologue, the dialogue – all of it was spot on. I loved the range of emotions that we see in Blake as well. I think that being a teenager is one of the most confusing, life-altering times there is. You are getting to know who you are, what you value; you are changing constantly – both physically and mentally. Blake embodied the heartbreak, the emotions, the feeling of “these are the best days of your life,” the youthful enthusiasm. He is right up there with some of my favorite all-time main characters in YA fiction. (yes, up there with Francesca from Saving Francesca and Taylor Markham from Jellicoe Road – pretty lofty company)
Then, as if Blake isn’t awesome enough, you have Shannon and Marissa – two extremely different but beautiful in their own way characters. There is a bit of a triangle of emotions between Blake, Shannon and Marissa. Blake is currently dating Shannon and is friends with Marissa as they share a photography class. HOWEVER – this is not some typical triangle. Instead, their relationships were drenched in realism and in raw emotion. Your heart went out to both girls, and you understood some of the decisions that Blake made and how difficult they were. Speaking of secondary characters, I loved how supportive and normal Blake’s parents were. So often in YA literature, the parents are absent or neglectful or terrible. In this book, Blake’s parents were a guiding force – they still drove him crazy at times but I really liked the positive influence they had on him.
I also loved the photography thread woven throughout the story; I really enjoy dabbling in photography and took a class in college. Photography has the power to transform the obvious and every day and allows us to see the “true” figure or image. I felt that this was a definite theme in the book. The photography quotes at the beginning of each chapter were thought-provoking. I found myself going back to the quote after I finished each chapter to develop connections – they allowed me to think more deeply about the text.
In life, there are no easy answers or solutions. Problems just don’t go away. Decisions that you make change you and define you. Life just can’t be tied up in a package with a neat little bow – it’s messy and bumpy but wonderful at the same time. That’s why I love Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan – just like life, it has raw beauty. I highly, highly suggest moving this book up to the top of your “To Be Read” pile. If I taught high school, I would teach this in my classroom – this book would be so perfect for teenagers looking for books that “sound” like them. L.K. Madigan could teach a master class in voice. Overall, this was a thought-provoking, emotional read.
Sadly, right after I had finished this book, I read that L.K. Madigan has been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. My heart goes out to her and her family.
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age Recommendation: 15 and up
Awards: William C. Morris Award for Debut Authors
For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. I have always viewed words as having a magical quality-able to transport, illuminate and inspire. I was able to parlay this love of reading into a career as a language arts teacher and am able to encourage students every day to find books that “speak” to them. I decided to blog about the books I read because books are meant to be shared and discussed. 🙂