While you may find your summer reading list growing longer and longer with the addition of each month's must-read new releases, you should take care to leave room for at least one more title: the newest release from Jesse Ball. From the unforgettable characters to the inventive prose, How to Set a Fire and Why is a book you need to read before the end of the season.
With her father dead and her mother locked up in a mental institution, Lucia's life seems to be falling apart all around her — or, should I say, burning down. After getting kicked out her last school (again) after a violent fight with a classmate, Lucia — who lives with her elderly aunt — finds herself navigating another high school where the popular kids are always right, even when they lie. All that seems to matter in her new school is what you wear, what you drive, and how much "stuff" you have to show for yourself. But that's the way the rest of the world thinks, not Lucia, and not the secret Arson Club that she's stumbled upon. Now, the girl who has nothing to lose is looking to burn down anything and everything to become a part of this exclusive club.
Does it sound intriguing yet? Good, because it only gets better from there. In case you need more motivation to pick up this unique novel, here are 5 reasons to read How to Set a Fire and Why this summer. Proceed with caution, though, because things are going to start heating up.
1. Lucia is the modern-day female Holden Caulfield you've been waiting for.
Bright, funny, sarcastic, and searingly honest, Lucia, the book's main character and narrator, is a welcome addition to the list of books with smart, tragic, and cynical teenage narrators. Like Holden before her, Lucia rails against the phonies, the hypocrites, and the liars of the world. Smarter than her years show, she's a subversive character whose quirkiness is engaging rather than infuriating. Despite her bad decisions, despite her disillusionment, and despite her penchant for destruction, you can't help but root for Lucia, this tragic young girl who never asked anyone to root for her at all.
While reading the novel, don't be surprised if you forget Lucia is a fictional girl, rather than a living, breathing human talking to you through her own book. She's that real... and that unforgettable.
2. There's an equal amount of heartbreak and humor.
Lucia's story is, at its core, a tragic one: her father is dead and her mother is living in a mental institution. But with each dose of heartache comes an equal dose of humor. From the signature sarcasm of the narrator to the quirkiness of her elderly aunt caretaker to the absurdity of the people who live and breath in Lucia's world, there's plenty to make you laugh in this story, even if you're laughing through the tears.
3. The experimental writing is fun and engaging
Flip through the pages of Ball's book, and you will quickly see that no two are exactly alike. Littered with lists, broken sentences, journal entries, diagrams, pictures made with words, and yes, even a pamphlet on how to set a fire and why, this novel could have been a disaster in less talented hands. But Ball manages to use his inventive writing to enhance the story and offer further insight into the mind of his leading lady. Each word Lucia shares with the readers is an intimate look into who she is at her core:
“When I think about what my future holds, it is a bit like looking into the sun. I flinch away, or I don’t and my eyes get burned down a bit, like candles, and then I can’t see for a while.”
Beyond the structure of the book, the actual writing is nothing short of breathtaking. Sometimes blunt, other times poetic, Ball's prose is a beautiful dance between humor and heart. It's the kind of book that doesn't allow you to turn the page before rereading at least one stand-out line over again. Yes, it's that good.
4. It's a coming-of-age story that is both comfortably familiar and wholly unique.
Like many novel about teenagers angry at the world, How to Set a Fire and Why features a tragic family history, acts of teen rebellion. outsiders finding company in like-minded outsiders, and a group of young kids dead set on destroying the world as they know it — because, like all teenagers, they know best. But there's something more to this coming-of-age story, something deeper. To explain it, I'd have to spoil the story, so let me just say this: Lucia's story is all her own.
5. The book's philosophy will blow your freaking mind.
She may only be a teenager, but Lucia, like other great young narrators, is wise beyond her years and doesn't hold back her thoughts on life or morality. She lives by one rule and one rule only: Don’t do things you aren’t proud of. For Lucia, the things that make her proud are vastly different from the materialistic things that make the rest of the world proud, and when she find out there are other people like her — “people who want to set fires, for people who are fed up with wealth and property, and want to burn everything down"— she can't wait to be a part of it.
But it isn't just Lucia's outlook on money and materialism that will have you rethinking your own life philosophies. One of the most unique things about this young narrator's mindset is her ability to take what life has handed her without excuses. Lucia accepts the world for what she believes it to be, even when it's painful. When it comes to her own mother's illness, Lucia doesn't seek solace in signs:
"I sat with my mom as she did some gurgling. I thought about how it was easy to think it meant something — the gurgling, but it was actually like leaves or gravel or layers of skin. I mean to say — it isn't meaningful, it isn't meaningless. Things don't really apply to us in particular, even if we want them to."
Although her personal perspective leads her down a dangerous and destructive path, it's also what provides her with the sense of freedom so many of us seek.
If you read one more book this summer, make it How to Set a Fire and Why. This unforgettable book will be burned in your brain, seared to your soul. Afterwards, you will never be the same again.
Images: Giphy (5)