By Jesse Ball
283 pages in hard cover. Published by PANTHEON BOOKS
ISBN 978-1-101-87057-0

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HOW TO SET A FIRE AND WHY. I assume that this book is one of those teen or early-adult-themed book that deals with the emotional and social issues they encounter. Setting fire to wood, and paper is, admitted, one of those relaxing and exciting activities I partaken in as a teenager. None of those uncontrolled events. Matches, piles of papers, a wood-burning oven, and the occasional cockroaches in a can. Big, scary, flying cockroaches you typically find in tropical areas.
So the subject of this book is someone who has emotional or social issues, and fire helps the person overcome, or at the very least, deal with the problem. For some reason, this suddenly reminded me of Edward Scissor hands.


The author is an American novelist and poet. He has published several novels, poetry, short stories, and drawings. He is the recipient of many awards such as the Creative Capital Award in 2016, the Gordon Burn Prize in 2018, and the 2015 National Book Awards.
He is on the faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) where he teaches courses on lying, ambiguity, dreaming, and walking.


The book is a paper-wrapped, hard cover, acid-free paper with ISBN 978-1-101-87057-0. It is published by Pantheon Books, copyright 2016 by Jesse Ball. It is 283 pages long. 

This book is written in narrative form, from the point of view of Lucia, a 16-year-old who is going through more issues than someone her age should be experiencing.
Her Father is dead, her Mother is confined to a mental institution. She lives with her Aunt in a converted garage and the only tangible thing she has to remind her of her father is a zippo lighter. Her situation amplified the issues most teenagers deal with. Rebellion, a desire to find their place and an idealistic view of how the world should be. 
Lucia was also kicked out of school for stabbing (or grazing) the star basketball player of the school. He so happens to be the son of a prominent member of society. And how did he offend Lucia, he touched her Zippo lighter!

Lucia has a superior opinion of herself and looks down at people she dislikes. She considers them to be stupid, dump and unintelligent. This reminds me very much of Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye”.

They give her plenty of opportunities to better herself. She is accepted into Whistler High School after her expulsion from her previous school. She is then accepted into Hausmann, a private boarding school.  

And she strives for this if even just to please her aunt. Lucia is rebellious but despite her belief that she does not need people, but she actually does. She desperately wants to reconnect with her Mom but cannot due to her Mom’s mental condition. Her Aunt is the only person left that Lucia feels cares for her. Her Aunt lived with almost nothing and died also owning almost nothing. She feels that her Aunt deserves respect even in death and yet society has denied her this because of her material status. Very much the same philosophy espoused by the Arson club, her self-made pamphlet in particular. The club believed that society is skewed against the poor and working class. And that the only way to strike against the rich and powerful who hoard more than what they need to survive is to burn their monuments and buildings.

It is about growing up in a world divided between classes, “The have”, “The have some” and “The have not”. You will enjoy this book if you enjoyed “The Catcher in the Rye”.

© 2019 – 2024, Norman Talon. All rights reserved.

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