Book Review: Flash Burnout by L. K. Madigan

Blake has a pretty good life for a high school sophomore. He’s got a girlfriend who loves him and makes him happy, he’s got good friends, and for the most part he likes his classes in school. And he lives in a loving home with two parents and his older brother Garrett. He doesn’t give his situation much thought until he’s showing a photo assignment to his friend Marissa in class one day. When he uncovers a photo of a homeless woman passed out on the sidewalk, Marissa gasps and says, “That’s my mom.” Suddenly he’s compelled into Marissa’s life in unexpected ways and finding out that not everyone leads mundane, uneventful lives away from school.

As he’s drawn to help Marissa more and more, Blake’s relationship with his girlfriend, Shannon, becomes strained. Can he be the friend Marissa needs and the boyfriend Shannon expects at the same time?

Flash Burnout by L. K. Madigan juxtaposes suburban middle-class life against the lives of the homeless and addicted. It shows the toll addiction and neglect can take not only on family members, but also on friends and others in the community around them. The book covers issues of sexual abstinence, safe sex, underage drinking, using alcohol to escape, honesty in relationships and more. It also introduces complex supporting characters that add interest to the story: Blake’s mother is a hospital chaplain, and his father is a coroner. Garrett interns at the morgue with his dad. (Their work discussions make Blake queasy and may do the same for some readers.) Marissa’s brother Gus is a thrill-seeking bike messenger who takes responsibility for his family.

Madigan lives in Portland, and I really enjoyed picking up on some of the local references in Flash Burnout. I would have liked to know more about Blake’s conflicted thoughts between his feelings for his girlfriend and his friend, particularly after a particular event near the end, and I would have preferred less description of Blake’s ordinary life. Even so, I really liked following his story, and I liked that Flash Burnout doesn’t tidy up all the answers into a nice package at the end; instead it asks the reader to consider what will happen next. I believe the issues and the characters should provide great discussions for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up. Flash Burnout is Madigan’s debut novel, and I eagerly anticipate her next book.

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