Summary: You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.
Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it—until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead—by an apparent suicide—Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault.
You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.
Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.
Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?
Thoughts: Atlanta Burns has a problem. Many problems, in fact. Chief among them is that she has the kind of personality that can’t take anything lying down. When she’s kicked, she kicks back.
Or, to be more accurate, when she’s molested, she takes a gun and blows the sack off the man who touched her.
That’s how Atlanta gets her reputation. A reputation that gets her the attention when she’d rather have none, and puts her in the orbit of two other teens with serious problems of their own. And while Atlanta tries to keep her own company, to avoid getting drawn in to other people’s problems, she can’t escape them. Abuse cries out for vengeance, and that’s exactly what she’s going to serve.
Atlanta Burns is not a comfortable read. It’s not meant to be. It’s brutal, it’s cruel, and some scenes can leave you with a heavy sick feeling in your stomach. This isn’t an after school special where the bullies are just misunderstood awkward kids who lash out because they’re secretly lonely and want friends. This is a novel where the bullies will burn a boy with cigarettes because he’s openly gay, will kidnap and torture small animals, would rape a girl if given the chance of no repercussions. Where it’s not just teens who are bullies, where sometimes cops are crooked, where sometimes parents are stupid, where racist homophobic bigots have power and respect. In short, it’s the real world, and Wendig doesn’t attempt to sugar-coat any of the large piles of crap that are out there. Atlanta Burns is what happens when one person decides to get retribution for all the hell suffered by herself and those she knows. It’s not a novel about justice. It’s a novel about vengeance.
Wendig’s writing is brilliant as usual, and the narration reads very much the way people think and speak. Slang. Wit. Observation. Sentence fragments all over the place. And true to what I’ve come to expect from Wendig, plenty of swearing, again adding to the realism of teenage life. That’s a major part of what causes this book to hit home. You real a lot of fiction meant for teens, and the worst half of them say is “damn,” and the most they think or talk about sex is in vague romantic terms. And from my experience being a teenager, things really aren’t like that. Teens can have fouler mouths than adults, simply because they’ve hit that age where they’re not longer likely to be punished for cursing. So it’s f-bombs all across the board, for the novelty of it and because there are few better ways to express what you’re feeling at that time. Wendig’s teens talk and think like actual teens, utterly unsanitized and not dumbed down for anyone’s sensibilities.
Which makes sense, given the subject matter of the novel.
Atlanta Burns is a novel sure to generate a lot of talk, because it rips the pretty veil off life and exposes the brutal reality beneath. It deals with a lot of things that some people would rather close their eyes to, because it’s painful and difficult and sometimes it feels easier to close your eyes rather than face another day of hell. It’s the kind of book that both teens and adults need to read, though do keep in mind that it can be incredibly triggering and it might not be the sort of thing that can be read in a single sitting. I had to put it down a few times just to give myself a break from the imagery and the emotions that it generated, and I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who had this reaction. I felt a little bit sick more than once. Readers are reminded at every turn that “it gets better” doesn’t happen in a vacuum; people have to work to make it better. And just in case that doesn’t quite hit hard enough, those words are stated in no uncertain terms right at the end.
This is a book better experienced than explained, because by this point, I honestly don’t think this review can do the book justice. I rate it so highly precisely because it’s painful to read, because it calls attention to old wounds that I can relate to a little too well in some cases. If you’re lucky enough to have never been bullied, to have never been driven to the point where you seriously consider harming or killing yourself, if you’ve never felt that silent scream stuck inside you because you’re on the outside and the world seems impossibly set against you and any scream you let loose will just be mocked or ignored, then this book will give you a glimpse into what it’s like to live that kind of life. And if, like me, you have felt those things, this book might give you hope that there are people out there who see it, who see the problems, and who will launch themselves into action to make sure that brutality stops.
It’s uncomfortable. It’s emotional. And it’s worth every word.
(Received for review from the publisher.)