Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Review: Arson by Estevan Vega

Title: Arson

Author: Estevan Vega

Pages: 318

Received from: author



Before now, three things were true: he both loved and despised his grandmother; his life was going nowhere; and he was alone. But when a strange girl-who feels more normal behind a mask than inside her own skin-moves in next door, Arson hopes to find something he's never had: purpose. Using what he fears the most about himself, Arson must face his consuming past and confront the nightmare that is present as he walks the fine line between boy and monster. Dark, moody, and breathtakingly relevant, Arson, the chilling chronicle of an isolated boy with unimaginable ability, is sure to ignite the hearts and minds of a new generation.

For the first time in a very long while, I have no idea what to say.

I don't know what it is. The book that inspired this deduction of thought was by no means the best book I've ever read, nor was it the worst book I ever read. The prose was not special in the least, even a bit (read: a lot) too purple for my taste. The characters were meh, the story was overtly simple, everything just screamed five-out-of-ten. But then...I don't know. I don't know what to give it. I don't know what to say.

Arson lives in isolation with his Grandmother in the woods, he has no friends, his one and only social activity is Fail!Flirting with girls at the ice cream parlor he works at and he has this little issue with starting fires. Like, with his mind. I think. Its all very murky.

But all that changes when Emery, a girl with a creepy-ass mask and a chip on her shoulder (who, btw, is very un-funny in her sarcasm. You can tell it was meant to be witty...more on that later). She's all cool and shit, and she likes Arson, and its all good. But then shit goes down and I'm not really sure what but its there and she's being a sourpuss the whole time, sooo enough with the plot.

Anyway, his Grandma is basically like a psycho beast (waaay worse then Granny in House of Tomorrow, btw). She would be all like, "" you know? It was like WOAH, where the fuck did that come from? There was a mild attempt by Vega to better understand this lady with an entire chapter in her POV, but all it did was give us a very uncomfortable description of how old she is and not much else. I don't know. But anyway, she's crazy.

So, this crazy gramma is kind of abusive. Like, she started hitting Arson with a newspaper when she heard him jacking off (which, given, is gross, but a newspaper? really? he's, like, seventeen and, um, not a dog. just saying.) She isolates Arson to the point where his social skills are zero-to-none (also very similar to the aforementioned House of Tomorrow, no?) and switches from sickly-sweet to dayum-watch-yo-head in a very quick, bipolar fashion.

Since we're on the subject of Grandma, I think it would be a fabulous time to point out my main descrepency with Arson which is, no shit, Grandma. Actually, no. That's not my main issue. My main issue was how she talked; how everybody talked, really. Ya'll know how I'm a stickler for unrealistic speech patterns in books, right? I mean, I know not everyone can be my Beloved Elmore Leanard, but I still expect--especially in a YA book--some form of believability. And...that just wasn't here in Arson. I get it, you and your girlfriend and your gramma and just about everyone are Big Huge Freaks, but that doesn't mean ya'll have to be so...formal? awkward? I don't even know what to call it. Its like, there are really bad jokes that I think are supposed to be funny and--holy crap, you know how when there are alternating POVs and they all sound the same? Yeah, there you go. And why did they even call this YA? Half the book was in Emery's parent's point of view, anyway. They should have called this shiz "Aimee (with two 'e's)". Not to mention the purple prose.

The characters, I would have liked, had they all not been so...whiney. I mean, Arson, Arson's gramma, Emery, Emery's parents, especially Emery's mother Aimee. The entire book was basically a huge collection of "why me?"s and "woe is my life!" and...I mean, yeah, ya'll got it hard, but shut the hell up and do something about it. You, Arson, run away from your grandmother, try to control your fire. Emery, you have an issue with your parents? Stop being a brat and talk to them about it like a reasonable adult. Aimee, have an issue with your husband? Goddamnit, leave. Why is it no one in teen books are able to make some friggin decisions without pissing around for two hundred pages first? Guh.

That was kind of harsh. I apologize. I finished this thing five seconds ago and I haven't had my usual twelve hours to stew on the opinions, so the above was pretty passionate. I shall calm myself with a cookie.

Okay. I'm good.

You may all be thinking to yourselves, "Self, if Danielle hated Arson so much, why did she keep reading?" Well, first I will tell you to stop this insistant chatter with your subconciounse and get a friend. Second, I will tell you this: I did not hate Arson, but I'm not sure why. The above clearly displays a level of disdain I haven't felt for a book since the cursed House of Night series, but for some reason, I can not say I hated it. Or even disliked it, really. Which is where the confusion lies; what did I think of Arson.

Well, here's the skinny; I liked it in that it had a kinda sympathetic character and tackled some not-easily dealt with subjects. I like that it tried its darndest to be the Next Great American Novel. I like that it took a look inside of everyone's minds (even if it did all sound the same). I liked that Emery had a weird mask on. I like that all the characters were kind of jerks some of the time. I like that Arson hates fire. I like--nay, love--the ending. I liked a lot of Arson. But I also didn't like a lot of it. But that's okay.

Really, there's no way for me to tell you what you would think of this thing. Everyone seems to be loving it and, as usual, I seem to be in the minority. So go check it out if you were interested in the first place. If you weren't, I doubt my review changed your mind any. All I can say is that Arson is a noble attempt at heavy fiction and, with a little less melodrama, Vega could be a fantastic author to look out for.

Rating: a 6. Like a fire, you just can't look away.


James said...

I feel exactly the same way. The dialogue was unbearable, the "plot" was delayed by "oh my life sucks hey i sure can write messed-up characters huh?" and the family issues were, at best, artificial. I've felt like I'm the only guy that wouldn't even consider more than 5/10.

I was literally punishing myself reading through this book, but I kept going in the hope that it would redeem itself. I couldn't stop hoping that, with this premise, it could get awesome. Then the final scene comes in, and it actually does get awesome. Then it ends.

I'm looking forward to a sequel in which Vega listens to some criticism, tones down the cheese, and sticks to what the book originally promised.

K. A. Schloegel said...

"Like a fire, you just can't look away." That's a great line.

Dannie said...

James: Well, I didn't think it was HORRIBLE. But it definetly needs some work.

K.A.: :D

James said...

@Dannie - I wouldn't call it entirely horrible either... I really did love the ending. I think your "Like a fire, you just can't look away" line held extremely true for me as well.

Micaella Lopez said...

Arson is unlike any book I have read and if you don't mind a little creepiness I recommend reading it. I am so glad that I got the chance to read it and I will now patiently wait for the sequel!
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