I don’t usually like noir, although if the secondary genre of this book is (as I’ve heard) “cornpunk,” then sign me up for more of that.
But I love Chris. And Shane. And Whitey. And I love the hell out of Atlanta Burns.
ATLANTA BURNS by Chuck Wendig is a darkly funny and heartwrenching noir story-feast about a girl with a shotgun trying to make things right against Nazis, homophobes, dogfighters, rapists, and her own mother somewhere in the wilds of Pennsatucky. She doesn’t always succeed, but she lives through a hell of a lot. Her adventure brings her a loyal drug dealer named Guy (who lives in a fussy old lady house), and a nerdy kid named Shane who makes good on the purchase of a flea market kitana. The last addition to this team is a Dogo Argentino named Whitey, who I can’t even think about without tearing up. If you’re soft on dogs, prepare for this book to hurt you.
But hell, it also hurts if you flinch at foreclosure. Or fear ‘monsters in men suits.’ Or power-crazed cops. Or if you’re worried that the ‘it gets better’ campaign is awfully simplistic and passive.
While these things hurt, Wendig won’t make you hold out for a hero. Atlanta Burns is a shit-talking, straight-shooting, brave yet scared shitless kid with a shotgun.
Atlanta is real and complex and takes the Golden Tampon award for best female character written by a male author. She’s a girl, but she’s a person first. I have a good sense of what she wants, how she thinks, and what her limits are. She starts off as a bad-ass on her own behalf, but by the end she’s really an avenging bad-ass for hire.
…which is a huge bonus for me.
Despite the level of tension and the series of nail-biting events, the book is very believable. If you’ve ever lived in some lawless red dot in the middle of nowhere (and boy HAVE I) it will all look very familiar, but bravery in shitty places is always admirable. There was one teensy moment of WTF: Atlanta runs into a female classmate in an unsavory moneymaking activity and hears the girls bra “click” when she closes it. I sat up searching the internet for a bra that closes with an audible sound, instead of the soundless little wire hooks and eyes I’ve always known, and I’m still mystified by this one. Minor thing, and literally the only thing that ever took me out of the narrative.
I read this book like a house on fire. I think you will, too. And I can’t wait for the sequel.