Girl Detectives. You know them: Nancy Drew, Ginny Gordon, Trixie Belden, Veronica Mars, and so many others. Atlanta Burns is the newest name on that list. The difference in this series is that author Chuck Wendig takes that beloved trope and drags it out behind the dumpsters of its safe little world. He roughs it up and hauls it onto a stage set by the mundane horrors of poverty, racism, and abuse. I’d categorize this as a YA thriller, with a healthy dose of fantasy.
You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.
Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it—until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead—by an apparent suicide—Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault. You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.
Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.
Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?
Revised edition: Previously published as two volumes, Shotgun Gravy and Bait Dog, this combined edition includes editorial revisions.
Atlanta is an outsider. Not only is she a transplant to “Pennsyltucky” from the North Carolina, she’s returning to high school after spending months in inpatient therapy. She’s traumatized, and suffering from PTSD. Her peers are terrified of her. On her first week back at school, she breaks up a ring of bullies tormenting a smaller boy, and gains two friends, Shane Lafluco and Chris Coyne.
Wendig handles the incident that sent her to therapy with an honest delicacy, letting Atlanta come to grips with the trauma in small steps. Readers come along with her, gradually unveiling the trauma that Atlanta can’t shake. She self-medicates with illegally purchased Adderall and coors light.
Atlanta has to rely on herself because her mother is no help at all. It’s not clear if her mother is mentally ill, an alcoholic or merely dysfunctional, but she is a presence that Atlanta both condemns and clings to.
If I’d read a book like this as a teen, I know I would have identified with Atlanta immediately. The character is a flawed hero who meets violence with violence, and isn’t above using blackmail and threats to combat corruption.
Atlanta Burns is a YA novel, and would appeal to older teens. It doesn’t shy away from death or flinch from brutality. Vigilante justice is the order of the day. It’s the story that leaves you cheering for the hero while at the same time knowing that it’s entirely unrealistic in a world where teens can be shot by the police with impunity
This ain’t no play-pretty. Atlanta Burns is a dark novel that doesn’t need any supernatural element to make your hackles rise. The real world is scary enough on it’s own. Yes, the novel is violent. The language of brutality is right up in your face, daring you to go ahead and try using a euphemism for that word to see if it makes you feel better. Try skating around rape and murder with a wink and a nod and see where that gets you. Tell me how you wouldn’t do the same thing if were in that same situation.
The novel ends on a positive note, with Atlanta and Shane making a video. In it, Atlanta records a video with an “It gets better” message that at first, pissed me off, then made me cheer. Atlanta Burns is no Trixie Belden; she’s damaged and violent and has problems that she can’t solve on her own. But she will stick with her friends, and be around to fight back against the bullshit.
I’d recommend this for older teens, say 16+, and adult readers.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. Originally published at www.bookie-monster.com