YA novel limns graffiti complexities

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November 7, 2013

Burning from the Inside

By Christine Walde

Cormorant/Dancing Cat Books

240 pages, $14.95

Reviewed by Kirsten Larmon

Christine Walde’s second book for young adults, Burning from the Inside, is a richly complex, often lyrical novel that portrays the rarely addressed graffiti artist community.

The perspective shifts between Thom, an eighteen-year-old graffiti artist who has been on the street for three years, and Aura, an artist with strong beliefs about art, politics and the rest of her world.  I found these shifts, Aura’s terse narration, and a lack of dialogue indicators,  at first more jarring than engaging. However, as I persisted, I found myself hooked into Thom and Aura’s world and their mysterious quest.

Thom has just been caught graffiti-writing for the third time, a serious offence. However, rather than be handed over to his parents, Thom cuts a deal with the police. He agrees to help find a notorious graffiti crew who call themselves the G7 and who have been defacing billboards all over the city. By day, Thom will be serving his community time “buffing” graffiti off walls; by night, he will be free to graffiti those same walls, posing as an artist named TNT and searching out the G7. However, when he meets the group and Aura, a dedicated member, Thom begins to question everything he has been told. Together Thom and Aura begin a search for the truth behind the G7’s leader and a missing young female graffiti artist, Story.

Burning is a book about growing up and finding one’s way, populated by teens trying to sort out who they are, what their world is, and how they intend to inhabit it. Unlike many authors who write for teen audiences, Walde allows her characters some bad behaviour without punishing them for it: pot, alcohol and ecstasy are all consumed (in moderation) without wrecking lives. Her teens are strident in their beliefs and full of certainty about the alienation and corruption of the corporate adult world. Though it is set in the present, real world, there is a touch of mysticism to the novel – a hint of fate and prophesy that runs through dreams, visions, and substance trips.

Thom and Aura are compelling characters, and the mystery which overtakes them is well-paced and suspenseful. A poet, Walde’s prose is precise and often beautiful, if sometimes elevated beyond language typical of the YA landscape: obscure words like “elegiacally” pop up from time to time. However, the novel is not without weaknesses: there are plot points that fray on close inspection, characters whose actions feel overly piloted by the author and movie cliches that skim over difficult plausibility issues. In particular, one character’s motivations are barely comprehensible and culminate in a final scene that feels like a derailment of his portrayal throughout most of the novel.

Burning from the Inside is not a simple read. It is a complex book for the inquisitive, the dreamers and the literary – a perhaps small, but certainly important, segment of the young-adult reading market.

Kirsten Larmon is a Victoria resident





{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

ihath January 24, 2014 at 10:03 am

If you enjoyed this novel then I recommend Graffiti Hack – a new novel by Elen Ghulam

grutter January 29, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Great! Thanks for the suggestion

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