Burned is the story of Pattyn, a teenage girl who lives in a primarily Mormon community in Nevada. Her family adheres to a strict version of Mormonism in which the men are dominant and the women subservient.
Pattyn is one of six female siblings, each named after a male military figure. Her dad is constantly battling demons. With his first wife, he had two sons. One was killed in the military and the other was gay, so he was disowned. These circumstances so hurt his first wife that she killed herself, and now, remarried with so many new children, Pattyn’s dad blames himself and drowns his guilt in liquor. This leads to the continued abuse of Pattyn’s mom.
Pattyn begins to struggle with her own identity her junior year of high school. She knows what is going on at home is wrong, but when she tries to reach out for help, she finds the religious community defends her father. She’s named a liar by her bishop when she speaks about the abuse in hypotheticals, and Pattyn (unknowingly) begins to search for outlets to get away from her home life.
She meets a boy from her school one afternoon when she’s out in the woods to get away from the house, and they begin a romance that consists mainly of drinking and sexual exploration (though no actual intercourse). When her family finds out, she’s considered a problem child and is sent away to live with her aunt for the summer, supposedly as punishment.
Pattyn’s aunt Jeanette is her father’s sister. She, too, was raised in a strict, overbearing Mormon household and knows all too well the deadly lengths her brother will go to keep undesirable males away from good Mormon women. Aunt Jeanette has long since abandoned the church and lives on a ranch in Nevada, a wild and liberating environment that Pattyn comes to love and thrive in.
While at the ranch, Pattyn meets Ethan, a college student who is home for the summer to help is dad. He lives up the road and immediately captures Pattyn’s attention. All summer long, they kindle their romance which gives Pattyn strength and joy she has never known. Aware that going back home is the equivalent to being sent back to prison, Aunt Jeanette and Ethan arm Pattyn with some tools to gain some freedom from her father: a cell phone that Aunt Jeanette is paying for, pre-arranged calls with Ethan and a handgun from Ethan.
I asked a friend of mine who is a member of The Church of Latter Day Saints whether this type of culture was prevalent throughout the church. She had lived in Utah for a while, had been extremely involved in many sectors of the church and even did some mission work. What she told me was that the LDS does not advocate violence in any way, especially against women. In fact, she said that there are systems in place to prevent domestic violence and resources to which women can turn if they are being abused.
So is this a realistic portrait? I think so, as with any religious or political system, there are always interpretations of original doctrine that are more extreme than others. Just look at the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, which still practices polygamy. Though this is not addressed in Burned, American subcultures that adhere to Old World paradigms of male domination are a reality in today's society. My friend's interpretation of the families portrayed in this story was that this seemed to be a closed culture that justified itself by bastardizing the teachings of the church. I tend to agree.
I think that novels like this are important for teenage girls to read. Violence perpetrated against young women is prevalent, yet is not discussed very often. So when it comes from a family member, a friend or even a love interest, many girls don't know what to do. Hopkins' story at least shows that there are people to whom victims of violence can turn and that they are not alone in their experience.
This book was also very interesting to read because the whole story is written in verse; not so much poetry, as you have very little rhyme scheme or symbolism to translate, but each chapter is written in stanzas and verse formats. Some are even concrete poems, where the shape adds to the understanding of what’s going on in that section of the story.
While I wouldn't say that this is a book for adults, as well as teens, it is a great read for anyone who likes the young adult genre. I also think it's a must-read for any teenage girl.