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The Burn Journals
Cover of The Burn Journals
The Burn Journals
In the tradition of Running with Scissors and Girl, Interrupted, The Burn Journals is a truly remarkable book about teenage despair and recovery.In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from...
In the tradition of Running with Scissors and Girl, Interrupted, The Burn Journals is a truly remarkable book about teenage despair and recovery.In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from...
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  • In the tradition of Running with Scissors and Girl, Interrupted, The Burn Journals is a truly remarkable book about teenage despair and recovery.
    In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from school, doused his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on, and lit a match.

    He suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he'd done, undertaking the complicated journey from near-death back to high school, and from suicide back to the emotional mainstream of life.

 

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Excerpts-

  • From the book When seventh period is finally over, I run to my locker and put all my books inside. I won't need them anymore. I grab my lock-picking set and a spare Ace of Spades that I have lying around.At the end of the hallway, I can see Stephen talking to Megan, the girl we both have a crush on. I walk up to them and say hi. She smiles at me and I try to smile back. He looks a little suspicious.
    I don't really want to say anything, I don't want to tell them what I'm going to do. I hand him the Ace of Spades and say, "Good-bye," and I walk away. I hope they'll be happy together.
    I see my friend Jake at his locker and give him the lock-picking set. "Use them wisely," I say, and head toward the bus.
    Laura walks with me down D hall. She says, "Hey, I heard you set that fire in gym class."
    "Yeah."
    "What are you going to do?"
    "I'm going to set myself on fire." She stops at her locker, and I keep walking.

    On the bus ride home, I sit by myself. I lean my head against the cold glass window and try not to think about all the stupid things I've done, all the bad things I've done, and all the pain I've caused everyone.

    My brother is playing basketball outside the house when I get home. He's shooting free throws.
    I rebound the ball for him and throw it back. I don't want to take any shots. I tell him the whole story, about what I did and what they're going to do to me. I don't tell him what I'm going to do to myself.
    When I'm done talking, he says, "That sucks," and I go inside the house. I don't have to write a note anymore. Craig knows everything.
    I walk out to the shed to get the gas can. I bring it inside to the bathroom at the top of the stairs because that's the room with the most locks. I go back downstairs and get the matches from the kitchen.

    I take off all my clothes and put on the pair of red boxers with glow-in-the-dark lips that my mom bought for me at the mall last weekend. I bring my bathrobe into the shower and I pour the gasoline all over it. The gas can is only about a quarter full, but it seems like enough.
    I step into the bathtub and I put the bathrobe over my shoulders. It's wet and heavy, but there's something kind of comforting about the smell, like going on a long car trip. I hold the box of matches out in front of me in my left hand.
    I take out a strike-anywhere match and hold it against the box.
    Should I do it?
    Yes. Do it.
    I strike the match, but it doesn't light. Try again.
    I light the match. Nothing happens. I bring it closer to my wrist and then it goes up, all over me, eating through me everywhere. I can't breathe. I'm screaming, "Craig! Craig!"
    I fall down. I'm going to die. I'm going to find out what death is like. I'm going to know. But nothing's happening.
    This hurts too much. I need to stop it. I need to get up. I stand. I don't know how I stand, but I do, and I turn on the shower. I'm breathing water and smoke. I unlock the door and open it. My hand is all black. I walk out. There's Craig with Rusty, our dog, next to him. They have the same expression on their faces.
    Craig yells something and runs downstairs. I think he's calling 911. I'm following him. He hands me the phone and runs off. There's a woman on the phone asking me questions. I try to tell her what's happened, but my voice sounds choked and brittle. There's something wrong with my voice.
    The woman on the phone says the fire trucks and ambulances are on their way. Somehow she knows my address. Craig is gone now, gone to get Mom, and Rusty is hiding somewhere. Smoke is coming from the bathroom upstairs and I can see that the whole room has turned black. I look down and see my flesh is charred and flaking and the...

About the Author-

  • Brent Runyon is a writer and regular contributor to public radio programs, including This American Life, where portions of his award-winning memoir, The Burn Journals, first aired. Booklist praised The Burn Journals as "the defining book of a new genre, one that gazes unflinchingly at boys on the emotional edge." In his novels Maybe and Surface Tension, he retains that raw honesty. Mr. Runyon lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from October 11, 2004
    Engrossing from first page to last, this book based on Runyon's own adolescent experiences draws readers into the world of an eighth-grader whose life is irrevocably changed the day he deliberately sets himself on fire. Brent, after narrowly escaping death, wakes up in a hospital with 85% of his body severely burned and begins a slow, arduous path to recovery. Rather than analyzing reasons the patient wanted to kill himself, the first-person narrative remains focused on the immediate challenge of survival, incorporating meticulous details of Brent's day-to-day ordeals in the hospital and later in a rehabilitation center. Time, at first, is measured by Brent's fluctuating levels of discomfort and comfort, ranging from the excruciating pain of having bandages removed to the sheer bliss of tasting ice cream for the first time in several weeks. And his repentant apologies to his parents and to Craig, his brother, who discovers Brent immediately after the incident, are wrenching in their honesty ("I hope Craig can love me again"). When his wounds begin to heal, Brent's thoughts turn from the present to the future as he nervously makes plans to return home and re-enter society. Despite its dark subject matter, this powerful chronicle of Brent's journey to heal expresses hope, celebrates life and provides an opportunity to slip inside the skin of a survivor with a unique perspective. Ages 14-up.

  • Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha "A fascinating account of the mending of a body and mind, told with the simple and honest sensibility of someone too young to have endured so much."
  • Booklist (starred review) "Runyon has, perhaps, written the defining book of a new genre, one that gazes...unflinchingly at boys on the emotional edge ."
  • A.M. Homes, author of Things You Should Know "An excruciating, brilliant book...WOW."

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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