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Review: Burning September by Melissia Simonson

I don’t really review books often, but for this one I’m going to make an exception. In fact, this book may be the exception to a lot. I like writing about things on my mind and right now, this is it. So, maybe it’s not really a review but a cleansing.

There are things I really, really love about Burning September and then there are things that are really not-so-great. But that has nothing to do with the writing and all to do with the characters.

I’m going to start with stating that I was neither paid in any way to read this book, and I came across it on my own. I don’t think I ever really meant to read it actually; from the overview I didn’t really like how it sounded, I felt as if it would be one of those books that I steer clear of. Unsure what exactly beckoned me to get started on this little gem I started reading the sample, and when it ended I knew I couldn’t stop until I had gotten the whole story. Call me nosy. 

Melissa does such a great job of making you as much a part of the story as the actual characters. The setting is depicted with such vivid detail that you can practically smell the surroundings. The characters themselves are very well developed too; when they interact with each other, the dialogue flows, it’s organic like normal conversations should be. It does have a great deal of “choice words” that I think are unnecessary, but that’s a matter of personal opinion. I feel the characters could express themselves with a lot more clarity had those words been swapped. But, given the society we live in, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that most eighteen-year-olds have a potty mouth.

The thing I really like about this book is the fact that although Katya has been living under her sister (severely so), she isn’t very meek; she chooses not to say certain words but not from fear of saying them, and the things she does say proves how quick-witted she really is. She doesn’t shy away from a whole lot, and sometimes I feel as though the author wants to have you believe that she’s withdrawn or introverted as more of a plot device rather than actually apart of the character. As the story progresses, we see her starting to be more accepting of herself as who she is. She’s so darn likable. That’s probably one of the most intriguing parts of this books, the growth. To be honest, I believe her relationship with Kyle is kind of the key that starts moving things along, even though it doesn’t really start off as a relationship at all. Katya’s growth here is handled perfectly, it doesn’t bounce around to where you’re left in confusion on how all of a sudden she’s able to stand on her own. 

Caroline is one of those characters that you love to hate. From the start you see something that’s kind of demented within her. It’s so twisted that it’s almost scary. There’s a difference between being a mother-bear and suffocating the life out of someone. Here’s what I mean when I say that: the grip that Caroline has on Katya’s life is so tight I’m surprised the girl is able to speak at all. Caroline is the take charge, I don’t take crap from anyone, sister-mom. Katya is 1,000 percent dependent on her. That’s the demented part. I think in some odd way, I got the impression that Caroline fed on that. Sure, she wanted to protect her sister and would do anything for her baby sister, but geesh, it’s a wonder if she still gave her baths until she was seventeen or cut her meat into little cubes and feed them to her. “Here come’s the airplane!” For a while after Caroline was hauled off, Katya was was like a baby doe trying to walk on those knobby knees for the first time.

Kyle was so necessary. But, don’t think I’m over the fact that he was a 29 year old that low-key fell in love with girl of 18. How he would drop everything and come running. I wanted to not like him because of that, especially when he would swoop in with alcohol like predators do to young naive girls. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t quite bring myself to hate him. Deep down, I think everyone needs a Kyle. 

The storyline takes place over the span of a year. I don’t think I really expected it to be this long either. It took a few days to wrap it up, of course I couldn’t dedicate whole days to reading it, but I did read at work, before I went to bed, I fit it in anywhere I could, really. I think it was designed to take awhile. Especially since it isn’t technically a chapter book and instead broken down into months. September to September.

Now, one of the most ANNOYING things that happens in this book is the somewhat Stockholm Syndrome type thing Katya has with Caroline. I swear, she couldn’t have one single thought without the ever present, “Caroline would have done it this way,” or “Caroline hated this or that.” It was overwhelming and was probably one of the most unnatural things happening here. I’d venture to guess that Caroline’s name is mentioned over 6,000 times. It’s like a Caroline Bible–the UnHoly Scriptures of the Modern Testament. I’m serious. We have a story written from Katya’s perspective, in her own unique voice only to be lead right back to Caroline. I reached an eyeroll point.

WWCD (What Would Caroline Do?)

It had started to work my nerves a little bit. Granted, I think had the story been told from Caroline’s POV it wouldn’t have been as great as it was. The fact that you really start to care about what happens to Katya more so than what happens to Caroline is the strength within this book.

My second quarrel was the lack of diversity! This was very one-toned–literally. For awhile I honestly thought I was reading a book meant for the Aryan Race. Literally everyone had blonde hair and blue eyes, except for the post-traumatic professor. No bronze, cocoa, lemon-tinted, just pale, tanned, ivory. Mostly pale. I don’t know how the author did it, but she found a million ways to describe blue eyes. After about the fifth character being introduced with some variation of blonde hair (dark, light, golden) did I realize, that everyone in this book must look the same; maybe within some sort of confine, or dome, where people of color have no acceptance, let alone existence. I feel different ways about them, and their physical attributes and personas give a great sense of who they are but there seemed to be a little bit too much of a dependence on white people with blue eyes. It made me question whether that’s all that lived in California and I’ve been there a few times. I certainly wasn’t the fly swimming in milk. Perhaps the author is really gunning for a particular market with that one. So, if you’re the kind of person who likes exotic characters, you probably wouldn’t like this; it’s pretty close to Hitler’s vision of a New World Order, if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the authors choices and although the lack of diversity kind of made me raise an eyebrow, it didn’t in anyway distract me from reading. It’s just one of those things that you notice in a book that’s meant to be in real-time.

Overall, I really have to say that I loved it. I spent a large portion of hours that I was supposed to be getting work done reading through it. I bought the ebook and the physical book because it’s one of those books you want to talk about; I could easily see this being one the list of some book club. Plus, the name has a ton of star-power in itself.

Burning September.

As you read the book, you can just roll through different interpretations of the name. I don’t really want to give out any spoilers, so I have to cut myself short here. I need a support group now; people to mull over the greatness this holds. So many things I want to talk about. One things for sure, I would like to see a follow-up to this book. Towards the end it started to feel rushed. A novella would be perfect for my unanswered questions.

I would highly recommend giving this book a read. It’s a well executed piece of literature that has more than earned a prominent spot on my bookshelf.

I did most of my reading through Amazon’s Kindle, but it’s also available in print. Go ahead and hop on over to her site: melissasimonsonbooks.com to check out out some of her other books and writings.

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