Book review: How To Set A Fire And Why, Jesse Ball

By Helen van Berkel

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Jesse Ball.
Jesse Ball.

Lucia's father is dead. Her mother is semi-catatonic in a mental institution after some kind of a terrible crime, the details of which are only hinted at. Effectively orphaned, Lucia lives in poverty with an elderly aunt above a garage, surviving on the charity of others and by shoplifting.

Her only treasure is a lighter that belonged to her dead father. I would have liked to have known what happened to her parents, but Ball deliberately leaves this out: perhaps to give added insight to how it feels as a child to know something bad has happened, but not what.

Alone and estranged, Lucia is struggling. Suspended from school for attacking another student, the disenfranchised teen moves to another school, where she eventually finds kindred spirits in a so-called Arson Club.

How To Set A Fire And Why traces Lucia's descent into an almost inevitable mire of the wrong crowd and crime. Fearsomely bright, Lucia chronicles her thoughts and predictions in a diary, giving us an insight into a confused, abused and horribly let-down teenager.

It is difficult to read at times as she details her wrong choices and all you want to do is reach into the pages, give her a hug and slap some of the adults who are too busy or disinterested to give her the help and support she needs.

That said, it's hard to get a handle on Lucia; she isn't always easy to like and it feels as if she is on the fringes of her own story; seen but not seen.

Kind of like the disaffected teens in our own society.

How to set a Fire and Why (Text $37)
By Jesse Ball

- Canvas

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