Atlanta Burns (Atlanta Burns #1 & 2) by Chuck Wendig
Genre: YA Crime/Mystery
Release date: January 27 2015
Source: eARC from publisher via NetGalley
The nitty-gritty: A tough read full of unhappy people, but with a glimmer of hope at the end.
“Maybe next time? I’ll bring my shotgun. It’s got a taste for the blood of monstrous men.”
“You can’t go like this forever. At some point you gotta be a normal girl.”
“If you say so.”
Chuck Wendig never fails to make me feel something, which is one of the most important things a writer can do for his readers. So when I picked up Atlanta Burns, I was expecting a gritty, action-packed story of a girl who solves crimes (OK, so I latched on to the blurb that compares it to Veronica Mars), because it’s Chuck Wendig, who does gritty really well. But I was not expecting this book at all. I would have to say Atlanta Burns got me more worked up emotionally than I’ve ever been while reading a book. I nearly didn’t finish it. When I got to the end of chapter thirty-three, my first reaction was to beat my Kindle to death and swear off Chuck Wendig for good. Because he had just broken my heart.
But after turning out the light and trying to go to sleep (and not being able to), I decided I might as well finish the story. I mean, there were only a few chapters left. And boy am I glad I did. I can’t tell you what made me change my mind about the book, because I don’t want to spoil the story. But let’s just say that glimmer of hope I mentioned up there? The door cracked open just a bit and let the light through—a murky and dim light, but light nonetheless. I finished this book wanting very badly to read the next installment.
Atlanta is a high school girl who lives in near poverty with her mother, a woman who can barely take care of herself, let alone her daughter. One day after school she inadvertently rescues a boy named Shane who is being bullied by a couple of schoolyard thugs. Before long, Atlanta is drawn into the hopeless lives of other students who are being bullied for being gay, Venezuelan, poor, etc. With her trusty shotgun and a generous supply of Adderall from her drug dealer friend Guy, Atlanta sets out to save as many lives as she can.
But when she is asked to investigate why dogs are disappearing from an affluent neighborhood, Atlanta finds herself in the middle of a dog fighting ring. Everything’s going to hell, fast, but Atlanta’s made a promise to try to shut down the Farm, and she isn’t one to give up easily.
The story takes some hot topic issues, mixes them together, and gives us a bleak and violent world, where bullying and hate crimes are the norm. Wendig comes right out and lays his issues on the table, and he doesn’t ever flinch. In case you’re wondering what the big trigger was for me, I’ll tell you, because if you’re a dog lover like me, you deserve a warning. Part of the book deals with Atlanta trying to shut down a dog fighting ring, and if there’s anything that will make me stop reading a book, it’s cruelty to animals. I knew this part was coming, but I wanted to see if I could get through it. And I did, mostly. Wendig shows us the grim realities of this terrible sport without going overboard. One of the best parts of this story is a dog called Whitey, and I’ll just leave it at that.
I’m going to tell you something you might not want to hear: none of the characters in Atlanta Burns are particularly likable. (Well, except for Atlanta’s English teacher Mrs. Lewis, who didn’t get enough page-time, in my opinion.) Otherwise, this story is populated by the following nasty and unlovable people: drug dealers; bullies; dog killers; dog thieves; teens who drink; teens who do drugs; Neo-Nazis; unfit mothers; corrupt law enforcement; and one Atlanta Burns, a teen who has recently “spent time away” because she shot the balls off her mother’s boyfriend (he was sexually abusing her). Atlanta has some serious baggage, not the least of which is her absentee mother who is in worse shape than she is. Until she meets a couple of nerdy kids who need her help—Chris, a gay teen, and Shane, a Venezuelan boy—both who have been mercilessly bullied. And I’m not talking call-you-a-faggot or stuff-dog-shit-in-your-locker bullying. This shit goes way beyond that, into the territory of physical pain.
But despite the unlikable-ness of Atlanta in the beginning of the book, she did grow on me, and I have to admit by the end I was completely in her corner. Wendig has a way of making you believe that all this could happen to one girl, in one small town. I don’t know how it happened, but I went from hating Atlanta Burns to loving it. Wendig pushed me into a pit of despair and made me claw my way out, then he showed me a glimpse of a beautiful sunset. Not bad for a book that I almost didn’t finish.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.
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