Stars: 5 out of 5.
Lizzy Borden had an axe and Atlanta Burns has a shotgun. I couldn’t help myself, sorry! But I can assure you that Atlanta Burns isn’t at all like this notorious murderer from the 19th century. Oh, and as you can see by the 5 stars on top of this review, I absolutely loved the book.
Fair warning though, this is a difficult book to read. It’s not your typical young adult book about life in high school where the earth-shattering problem is that the guy the protagonist likes chose to go to the prom with someone else. It covers some pretty harsh and gruesome themes like racism, bullying, teenage suicide, drug use and outright cruelty towards both humans and animals. So don’t pick up this book thinking that it would be an easy read. In fact, it should come with several trigger warnings.
But if you are looking for a serious story that challenges you and makes you think about our society and your own behavior; a book that leaves you a slightly better person after you close it, then definitely pick up Atlanta Burns. Chuck Wendig delivered a rare gem: a young adult book that strives not only to entertain the young readers, but also to teach them something. Too few books do that nowadays, unfortunately.
Alright, vague eulogies aside, what gripped me in this book, you might ask? I won’t go into details because I’m not sure I can avoid big spoilers, and I really don’t want to ruin the story for you.
I will say one thing though, Atlanta is not a typical teenage girl, or rather, she used to be a typical teenage girl until something horrible happened that left her rather broken and disillusioned. Some girls would wallow in their own misery and self-pity, but not Atlanta. I loved the fact that she took the matters into her own hands. If her mother was not going to defend her against the monster she had invited into their house, Atlanta would take care of it herself… with a shotgun.
I loved how Atlanta is portrayed. She doesn’t regret what she had to do. He mother’s boyfriend was molesting her and she blew his balls off. But the whole experience left her broken, disillusioned and isolated, because the people she used to be friends with in school don’t seem to notice her anymore, as if she was a blank space or something too dangerous and unpredictable to interact with. And I can understand her anger and resentment towards her mother – she was supposed to protect her from this, but failed miserably, and that loss of innocence and trust hurts more than the horrible act itself.
In some respect, I think Atlanta and Whitey are very similar – both will get back up and fight no matter how many times they are kicked down, and both are fiercely loyal and protective of those who they consider their friends.
From what I described above, it might seem that Atlanta Burns is a very grim book, but it’s not. Yes, it touches on pretty grim subjects, but the main message of the book is one that I endorse 110% – STAND UP TO BULLIES, don’t just take it, don’t walk past when you see someone being bullied and think that it’s not your problem, because it is everybody’s problem. One person might not make a whole lot of a difference, but a group of people might. And this message is true in every aspect of our lives, be it high school, work environment, or cyber-bullying on the internet.
So in case you are still wondering whether this book is worth buying, my answer is yes, absolutely. Go get it now!
PS. I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley.