Burn Baby Burn is an incredibly powerful novel about a young girl growing up in New York City in 1977. It deals with A LOT of sensitive issues, including domestic violence, drugs, and shootings that occur throughout the city at that time, by a shooter known as Son of Sam. Burn Baby Burn tackles these issues head on, and dives into a young girl’s world where she deals with these things on a regular basis.
Nora Lopez is almost eighteen years old. She and her best friend, Kathleen have birthdays only one day apart, and to celebrate, they plan on going dancing all night long at a disco club – they’ve been planning their celebration forever. The two girls spend so much of their time together and they’re practically like sisters. Kathleen’s family seems so perfect – her father is a very important firefighter, her mother is the wonderful, doting mother that everyone loves, and their family often takes trips together. Kathleen has everything provided for her, and wants for nothing.
Nora, on the other hand, doesn’t have it so easy. Her father left their family when she was still small – he remarried and now has another son. While he sends checks to cover the rent (when he remembers to send them), it’s never quite enough, especially now that Nora’s mother is getting less and less hours at her job at the tape factory. Nora works at Sal’s Delicatessen, and is required to give her mother $50 a month to help pay the bills, but she tries to save some money for things she needs. Her younger brother, Hector, on the other hand, is the opposite of Nora – he does what he wants, doesn’t go to school unless he feels like it, smokes, drinks, does drugs, and spends his time with the landlord’s son (the two of them are quite similar). When Hector doesn’t get his way, he gets violent – throwing furniture and hitting Nora and his mother. Hector is out of control, and their mother does nothing to stop him – instead she attempts to make Nora calm him down or talk to him, which never works. No matter how awful Hector is, their mother always brushes it aside, saying that it is a phase and that all boys like him tend to grow out of it and end up being good men. Nora doesn’t believe this, and she’s getting tired of keeping secrets and hiding bruises.
When fires start breaking out all over the area, Nora starts to wonder…where is Hector during these fires? He does always carry around a lighter, and he loves playing with them and setting paper on fire…
During all of this, a new boy starts working at Sal’s, and Nora instantly takes a liking to him. His name is Pablo, and the two of them start going on dates and seem to be great for each other. He’s in college, but since Nora is just about to turn eighteen, it doesn’t seem like too big of a deal. But with the shooter targeting young women and their dates, is it really worth dating right now? Nora doesn’t want to risk it, but she has deep feelings for Pablo and just doesn’t seem to be able to stay away from him.
Burn Baby Burn is a great coming-of-age story with a lot of well researched historical aspects nicely tucked in. Everything about this novel fits well together – it is full of suspense and emotional twists for both Nora and the reader. The things that Nora has to deal with are heartbreaking, and when she finally makes a stand, you’ll be cheering for her, and relieved to see that she’s doing something to change her situation, even if it costs her.
Nora’s character was truly amazing and easy to like – she tells it like it is, she knows what she wants, and she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. She’s independent and knows how to take care of herself. She’s a unique character, and it fits in wonderfully for the time period, when a lot of women were breaking out of the homes and discovering themselves. The supporting characters all had their own unique personalities, as well…especially Hector. It was painful to see the kinds of things that Hector put his family through, and it made my heart hurt to see how their family was completely torn apart by his actions.
If you enjoy historical fiction, this is one you should try. The writing flows wonderfully, and the author has done plenty of research in order to make this book come alive. It really is quite brilliant and heartfelt.
Note: I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.