How to Set a Fire and Why
Jesse Ball
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Buy *How to Set a Fire and Why* by Jesse Ballonline

How to Set a Fire and Why
Jesse Ball
304 pages
July 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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When Lucia Stanton introduces herself to the reader, she holds back a few secrets, offering select glimpses into the mind of a teenager who exists on the fringes of society and has constructed a singular perspective on the world in order to survive it. Her father dead and mother ensconced in a mental institution, Lucia lives in a tiny garage apartment behind a large home. House and garage are bifurcated by a garden, symbolic of the vast differences between comfort and the day-to-day struggles of an elderly woman and a girl hovering on the cusp of womanhood.

Ball inhabits the mind of a character whose worldview is formed by experiences shaped by hardship and loss, trusts only in her own counsel, and views others with a wary eye, tracking even the narrow parameters of her auntís particular perspective. Luciaís understanding of reality has proven untrustworthy. Stripped to the essentials, Lucia steps lightly through her surroundings, her uniform a hoodie and jeans, cropped hair, and the truculence of the outsider. Attending a new school after being expelled for a violent outburst against a student basketball star, Lucia has few expectations at her new school, though she is encouraged by news of a club--the Sonar Club, which she deduces is really an arson club, something she finds very attractive. Such are the activities that draw her attention, capture her imagination.

Child of a socialist-leaning family, Lucia has the heart of an anarchist, a natural rule-breaker, distrustful of power and authority, most comfortable alone or in the company of her eccentric aunt. An innate and terrible intelligence is her tool against the indifference she meets everywhere, the politics of poverty in a society of plenty. She makes due with her share, turns her sharp wit on those who would make her small but has a particular affinity for the disenfranchised, proud of her ability to communicate with outcasts while adamantly eschewing facile conversation for its own sake. The very idea of fire is seductive, its fierce abandon, its wild destructive beauty, its extinguishing of life. Brutally pragmatic, this young woman is an anomaly, temporarily cared for by a beloved aunt but conscious of how quickly life can change.

The novel (and Luciaís voice) is both tragic and knowing, wise yet damned by helplessness, emotionally feral but for the few she allows close. She carries family memories in the palm of her hand, the smooth surface of her fatherís silver Zippo lighter, an inherent tool for destruction, the power to inflame her soul, to purge temporary misery, the silent scream of one without a voice. It is a singular rendition, evoking emotional responses to unfamiliar conditions, truth born of pain and the clarity of experience, an anarchistís diary, fire the symbol that captures Luciaís furious, lonely path.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2016

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