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“But can you build a friendship on fear?” Nicole. —Burning Blue
by Paul Griffin
AR Test, Good for Reluctant Readers
Nicole has it all. She’s rich, beautiful, and popular. When unknown assailant splashes acid onto Nicole’s face, her tragedy is splashed over the national news. As Nicole tries to come to terms with her disfigurement, the reporters follow her trying to get a gruesome picture of her wounds.
Jay has always been a loner. Because of an embarrassing epileptic seizure he had during an assembly, his classmates treat him like a freak. When he sees Nicole’s damaged face, he decides to find out who did it. As he begins to dig for clues, he discovers that Nicole is surprisingly down-to-earth. Jay uses his hacking skills to try to uncover the truth, but this leads him into danger. He realizes that everyone is a suspect—teachers, friends, and even Nicole herself. Can Jay find the assailant before there is another attack?
After a chance meeting in the school counselor’s office, Jay and Nicole form a fragile relationship. Both are trying to deal with an event that has changed the way their classmates see them. Both are trying to figure out how to deal with a difficult situation. The author highlights that people who face trauma do not bounce back immediately. Instead, they need time and therapy to heal their wounds.
Readers will be able to relate to Jay, who not only has a troubled relationship with his father, but also struggles with fitting in with his peers and allows his fear of being embarrassed to control his choices. Because Jay has been the target of other’s mean comments and has faced difficulty because of his epilepsy, Jay has empathy for others. Jay’s hacking abilities give the story an interesting twist. As Jay hunts for clues, the reader will want to continue turning the pages to find out what happens next.
There is never a dull moment in Burning Blue, which has elements of romance, teenage anguish, and high school drama. The wide cast of possible suspects allows the readers to question each person’s motives. The ending contains several surprises and will leave the reader questioning the nature of evil. Teens looking for an action-packed mystery will want to grab Burning Blue. Besides being a highly entertaining story, Burning Blue highlights that appearances can be deceptive. After you’ve read Burning Blue, you may want to check out Griffin’s book Adrift, which is another packed story.
- Nicole’s boyfriend was usually a gentleman, but one “afternoon he was jacked up on too many Red Bulls or whatever, desperate. He wouldn’t let her go. He kept saying, ‘One last kiss.’”
- When the police were interviewing people, Jay thinks the police “were looking for someone who hated Nicole, not somebody who was trying to bone her.”
- Jay hacks into someone’s social media and sees a text that says, “Somebody should blow her boyfriend and post the video on her fb.”
- After Nicole’s face is burned, a girl stops and stares “like she’d stumbled onto a rape in progress.”
- Some boys invite a girl to a party with “the intention of having her pull the train.” Jay takes the girl outside “with the intention of walking her home. She was smashed, tackled me onto the hood of this Mercedes sedan, rammed her tongue down my throat.” Then she pukes. This girl was the “only girl I (Jay) had ever kissed. I mean, I’d gotten hand jobs before from this chick in my building who was a year older than I was, but when you kiss a girl on the mouth, even if it’s only for three seconds and she pukes after, that’s kind of serious in my book.”
- Jay sees a custodian’s email. “Somebody named Isabella1801 had emailed what she wanted to do with him that night. No whips or chains, but it was borderline hard-core.”
- A girl likes to take her friends’ phones and send texts. Someone explains, “You’d check your Sent folder and see you’d just zipped the dude an invitation to give him a blow job.”
- Someone asked Jay if he’d “boned her (Nicole) yet?”
- Jay kisses Nicole. “I put my hands on her face as I leaned in and kissed her. I kissed her checks, her eyes, her mouth. In time, we stopped trembling, and the cold was gone from us. . .”
- Someone squirts acid on Nicole’s face. She screamed as she was “trying to wipe off the acid made the situation worse. She burned her hands.”
- Jay pinned someone in a wrestling match. Afterwards, the boy got his friends together for revenge. “After practice the guys stuffed up the sink and held my head under the water until Dave came in. He shoved everyone back. . .”
- A reporter was trying to take pictures of Nicole and wouldn’t leave her alone. Jay “grabbed his camera and smashed it on the pavement.”
- Someone attacked Jay. He “ran, but she kicked my foot from behind. She smashed my head face-first into musty green mini-golf carpet. I felt her knee in my back and something smooth, cold and heavy behind my ear. Metal, the nose of a pistol.” The police appear and help Jay.
- While in a car, a boy grabs Jay. “The arm was around my neck, and the chokehold was tightening. . .My neck was pinned to the edge of the seat back. . .I was fading out. . . I was sure they were going to kill me, and I panicked. With images of that childhood car crash blinding me, I drove my feet into and through the back of the driver’s seat.” The car crashed. Jay ends up in the hospital and one person was seriously injured.
- A girl was having sex with David. She’s angry that he “let me such your dick no problem, but you’re embarrassed to be seen in public with me.” She thinks his dad would say she is a “low-class whore.”
- Nicole’s mom “poured the oil onto herself.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- There is a rumor that one of the boys was “willing to do anything to win, including possibly giving himself steroid-induced testicular cancer.”
- Jay takes anticonvulsant medication for his epilepsy.
- After Nicole is burned, she is given pain medication, but sometimes she flushes it down the toilet because it makes her feel numb. She also takes Xanax to help her sleep. Later in the story, she takes Prozac.
- Jays dad was drinking “a bottle of red wine, the second one.” It is implied that Jay’s dad has a drinking problem and has gotten a DUI before.
- A reporter “liked to buy the cops ending their eight-to-fours a pony beer or two.”
- Jay takes an adult friend “a six of Becks.”
- Jay didn’t want Nicole to see his apartment because, “once in a while people hung out in the lot and smoked weed and drank and yelled and fought.”
- An adult tells Jay that he’ll give him twenty bucks if he got a haircut. Jay jokes, “Might just blow it on meth too.”
- When a girl had “a few too many drinks” and puked in the bathroom, Nicole helped her out.
- Jay’s dad calls to check on him, and Jay says, “I’m just mainlining a little heroin.” Jay was upset that when his dad called he had been drinking.
- When Jay called a friend, she said she was drinking “straight vodka.” Later she tells Jay that, “If you were really thankful, you’d get me the Budweiser.” Jay recommends she go to rehab.
- Jay, his mother, and father went to a party. Jay’s mother and father had been drinking. His mom drove even though she’d “had a few.” The car hit black ice and crashed. His mother died.
- After a car accident, Jay is given pain killers.
- Crap is used often.
- Profanity is used occasionally and includes ass, bitch, damn, hell, piss, and shit.
- “Oh my God” is used as an exclamation six times. “Goddamn” is used once.
- When Jay breaks a reporter’s camera, the man yells, “fuck you.”
- Jay calls a guy a “douche.” Later, someone calls someone a douche bag.
- Dick is used three times. Jay asked Nicole if her dad was “being a dick about money.”
- Jay says he needs to act tough or he’d get his “ass kicked.”
- Jay thinks, “I was going to catch the son of a bitch who burned Nicole Castro.”
- Someone said Nicole’s father was a “bona fide prick.”