Title: The Burning
Author: Laura Bates
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK Children’s
Publication Date: 21st February 2019
Fire is like a rumour. You might think you’ve extinguished it but one creeping, red tendril, one single wisp of smoke is enough to let it leap back into life again. Especially if someone is watching, waiting to fan the flames …
New school. Tick.
New town. Tick.
New surname. Tick.
Social media profiles? Erased.
There’s nothing to trace Anna back to her old life. Nothing to link her to the ‘incident’.
At least that’s what she thinks … until the whispers start up again. As time begins to run out on her secrets, Anna finds herself irresistibly drawn to the tale of Maggie, a local girl accused of witchcraft centuries earlier. A girl whose story has terrifying parallels to Anna’s own…
I am always intrigued by any book that finds parallels with history in a modern problem and The Burning did that very well. It follows Anna, a teenage girl, who has moved away from a big city to a small fishing village in the East Neuk of Fife in Scotland. Anna and her mother have moved to escape the fallout from an incident involving the very real dangers of modern technology. She then begins to find out more and more about a girl who lived in the village hundreds of years ago who was accused of witchcraft.
The first thing I loved about The Burning is the setting. Being a Scot myself, the area of Fife in which this book takes place is one that I am really familiar with and it’s an area of Scotland I haven’t seen represented in fiction before which pleased me immensely. The author described the atmosphere of a tiny fishing village so beautifully and it is clear she has done her research. The relationships in The Burning are also nicely dealt with. In particular, I thought the bond between Anna and her mother was portrayed in a subtle but affecting manner. I liked the genuine feeling of love between them and the strength of their relationship was a real high point of the story. The nature and complexity of friendship was also explored in The Burning. Teenage friendships are so full of intensity and betrayal but can also be so supportive and genuine. The author did a great job showing these two extremes. She writes teenagers in a way that feels honest and not patronising which is a trap young adult fiction sometimes falls into. The way these teenage characters behave is at times shocking but at the same time disturbingly plausible.
The other focus in this novel is on the history of witch hunting, especially in Scotland. I was aware already that the number of women vilified for supposed witchcraft is comparatively much higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. This is such a disturbing and fascinating fact and I loved the way the author seamlessly wove in the story of a young woman persecuted pretty much entirely because she was a women at the wrong time. I was amazed that the practice of witch hunting, which we think of as arcane and medieval, can be so easily compared to the way in which women are still treated. Things may have improved and changed but when it really comes down to it, women are still held to a completely different standard from men and are punished when they are judged to have failed to live up to it.
I think this is exactly the sort of book that should be read in schools. Luckily for me, social media was just beginning to become the monstrous influence it is today and so I never really had to deal with the problems it has created for young people. It is however not going anywhere so any book that explores the distress it can create and the ways it can be exploited is vitally important.
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I received an e-arc of this book through Netgalley. My Review is my own honest opinion.