By Paul Griffin
Available now from Dial (Penguin)
This is one of the books I picked up at TLA. The publicist told me she was excited about the new Paul Griffin, "of course," and I admitted I'd never heard of him. She handed me an ARC of BURNING BLUE so that I could rectify my mistake. I am very happy she did, because BURNING BLUE is a terrific book.
Now, don't confuse BURNING BLUE with MY LIFE IN BLACK & WHITE. Both feature beautiful girls being disfigured, have color titles, and were published by one of Penguin's young adult imprints, but have little else in common. BURNING BLUE is a thrilling mystery, not an introspective character study. Someone threw acid in Nicole Castro's face, and Jay Nazarro wants to know who. That's right - despite the girl on the cover, the narrator is a boy.
Jay is returning to public school after two years of being homeschooled after a video of one of his epileptic fits went viral. He meets Nicole in the school psychologist's office - they're in a swanky school district - shortly after the attack. The two become friends, after a rocky start, initially attracted by someone else who has issues being looked at in public. I absolutely loved their relationship. It's a little sexy, as there is obviously something between them, but it stays platonic. Above all else they become friends. Friends with the potential for more, yes, but it's a very sweet friendship and feels more authentic than an actual romance would.
Jay is pretty compelling on his own, as any good detective should be. I'd read a series about hacker detective Jay Navarro. He's good looking, but too socially awkward to notice or do anything about it if he did. He's willing to stand up to bullies, even if it means his own reputation takes a dive. But he isn't perfect. He's got little respect for privacy and interferes sometimes when he'd be better off trusting (or helping) the police. He might be good at helping Nicole recover, but he can still say thoughtless things that hurt her.
As for the crime itself - wow. Griffin does not back away from the darkness. BURNING BLUE is a book driven by violence, and the many motives violence. Despite that, BURNING BLUE isn't a dark book. It's quite often funny and the characters are more often good people than bad, no matter that they might seem sinister at first. The only way to discover who attacked Nicole is to treat everyone as a suspect, but the truth is the vast majority of people wish her nothing but the best. I liked that BURNING BLUE delved into tough issues without being cynical. It's a book with heart.
BURNING BLUE will appeal to both genders. Fans of mysteries and contemporaries will both enjoy the story within its pages. And I nominate Jay one of the most swoon-worthy heroes of the year, even if he isn't a werewolf/vampire/merman/other-tortured-creature-of-the-night.