The Burning

By Megan Thomas

This was Laura Bates’ debut into the Young Adult fiction genre, which I read in anticipation of interviewing her about The Trial at the Wigtown Book Festival this year.

I’m happy to have read both The Burning and The Trial (reviewed previously here), because while one on its own suggests Laura is in tune with the specific issues that young people are dealing with currently, both suggest that it’s not just specific issues but a much broader scope of understanding. This is no doubt richly inspired by the work she does at schools across Britain.

The Burning tells the story of a teenaged girl called Anna who is forced (socially, but also with pressure from her school) to leave Birmingham and move to a small town outside St Andrew’s in Scotland after a social media inspired scandal takes place. I won’t spill the details there, because part of the exciting plot is the anticipation of what actually happened, which unravels as Anna starts settling down, making friends and wondering whether life could ever return to normal.

However, the narrative is written in parallel with Anna’s school project, where she is required to learn about the history of a local. She finds clues that suggest witch hunting and burning took place within their Scottish parish community, and embarks on a mission to get to the bottom of it. She also finds a necklace in her new home which is making her have dreams that weave into this research, leaving the reader unsure what is real, what is history, and what is imaginary…

I was particularly fond of the way in which Laura has written Anna’s mom’s response to the move and the situation. Though unquestionably supportive and loving, she doesn’t quite get the magnitude of the situation – or what something going viral actually means, even if moving towns to escape the problem. It spoke to me of the disconnect many parents must be feeling when raising children in our increasingly digital world, and the honesty made me think this book would be as helpful for parents as young people to read – boys included.

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