Review: Burning September by Melissa Simonson

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One meaning of the title of this book was much more literal than I was expecting! Perhaps more surprising though was how powerful this book ended up being – one of my faves of this year, for sure!

Burning September by Melissa Simonson
Genre: Literary Fiction

Kat’s life is going exactly the way her sister has planned it, until a detective shows up at their front door early one morning and arrests Caroline for murder.

Suddenly and utterly alone, Kat doesn’t know how to navigate a world without Caroline, the woman who raised her. During the aftermath of the crime, Kat tries to figure out who she is without her sister, but unlocking those doors only leads to more troubling questions.

Kat realizes the one person she thought would never lie to her had, and quite frequently. Sorting through the skeletons and secrets might be more than she can handle, but it’s a necessary evil if she ever wants to see her sister acquitted.

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I did have some issues with this book, which I’ll get into below, but I still really enjoyed it. The writing is so strong and that’s immediately evident from the first page. I was really impressed the entire way through! I think this is an author I’ll enjoy coming back to again and again, if this book is anything to judge by.

There’s also a lot of humour in this one, mostly in the dialogue as the sisters can be quite snappy with their remarks. Here’s one of my fave quotes:

“This is quite possibly the most idiotic thing you’ve ever done. And I’m counting that one time you asked me why it was called stainless steel.” (p. 197-98)

At its core, this story is about the relationship between two sisters. Katya has always lived in Caroline’s shadow, her beautiful sister who always turns heads and has everything go her way. Until Caroline is arrested for murder. Now Katya is left on her own, struggling to understand who she is without her sister.

This isn’t a murder mystery but there are still mysteries to be solved within this story. It’s revealed immediately that Caroline did set the fire and I found her character really interesting to explore. She has her own way of rationalizing things and making the world work for her. We do get some “explanations” for her behaviour later in the book, but really Caroline just is who she is. It’s uncomfortable getting to know her but at the same time you can’t look away.

Katya understands Caroline better than anyone but the real mystery of the story comes when she realizes her sister has been lying to her her whole life, when she thought there were no lies between them. Even as Katya is trying to separate herself in some way from Caroline and figure out what she wants for herself, she still feels her sister’s pull.

 

Katya herself took some time for me to understand. I got the impression from the beginning of the book that she was more of a meek person but in later conversations she’s openly snarky and sarcastic. I don’t know if this was her coming out of her shell as she became more comfortable around these people but to me it felt more like a sudden jump. Her personality didn’t feel consistent throughout so it was difficult to connect with her until I’d progressed through the book.

My main issue is one of my pet peeves in books which was the age difference in the romantic relationship. Katya, who is only 18 years old, begins a relationship with a 29 year old. Even without considering the fact that’s she just become legal (though not old enough to drink because this book is set in the US), there are multiple levels of power differences between the two. As well, it seemed that every encounter between Katya and her “bf” involved alcohol, which further takes away her power.

There is some mention in the book about this relationship being an issue but I think it’s brushed off because Katya is considered “different” than other teenagers. She’s not interested in typical teenage activities and most (all) of her friends are adults so this seems to satisfy any of the characters’ concerns. However mature Katya may be – which is how it’s justified in the book, that doesn’t excuse an adult preying on a minor.

I really liked this book, especially in getting to explore the dynamics of this sisterhood, but I wish it could have avoided any inappropriate relationships.

About the Author: Melissa watches more Dr. Phil than is optimal and lives in Massachusetts with her husband, son, and herd of animals

Author links: Website | Twitter

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own

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