Thursday, August 30, 2012
Me on (You) Set Me on Fire
Author: Mariko Tamaki
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: Razorbill Canada (Penguin Canada imprint)
Allison Lee is seventeen and off to college in the fall. So far, she's been in love once (a total catastrophe) and on fire twice (also pretty bad). Both have left their scars on her. Looking more like burnt chicken than a radiant and reborn phoenix, Allison heads off to live in residence at St. Joseph's College, where she discovers the true gift of being a freshman: the gift of reinventing yourself. Miles away from home and high school, the all-girls dorm is a strange new world to her, a place of new social circles and challenges. She still feels like the odd man out, until Shar appears. Shar quickly becomes the centre of Allison's world, drawing her in with her dangerous allure. Will Allison get burned again? And if she does, what scars will she earn this time?
(You) Set Me on Fire is a rather honest and blunt look at a girl's first year at college and all she comes across, be they class subject matter, social situations, parties, drinking, family, or romance. It's very much a coming-of-age story for Allison, her first foray into the world, or that sub-adult world that occurs between high school and after college. It's also an intriguing comparison between love and fire, how they leave scars on our bodies, how they impact our lives, how they change us for better or for worse. It certainly leans towards the darker side of college, the drinking and the possibly dangerous situations, but at the end it is all about Allison, about her journey to figure out what kind of person she is, scars and all.
At the beginning, Allison is really damaged, apart from the scars. She's ready to leave high school behind, all the people she knew and cared about and didn't care about, and she's ready to find new social circles to be a part of. But one of Allison's big flaws is how anti-social she is, and once she's alone at college she's pulled into a world that contains a lot of making friends and partying. Is that what college really is about? There are times when she goes to her classes, times when she does homework and exams, but not as much as I expected.
Of course, everything takes a back seat when she meets Shar. It's such a spectacularly complicated relationship, Allison and Shar. She appears like a flash, quickly becomes the centre of everything, and takes over. It's messy, it's harsh, it's a semi-pseudo-romance, it's impossible to define, and it leaves Allison struggling to figure it all out.
College does give you the change to reinvent yourself, especially if you move away and live in a dorm. Odds are, no one will know anything from your past, none of the bad sides and the rumours. It's a chance for Allison to start over, which, given her hangups and social issues.
Love and fire and college, all three have their similarities. They can be harsh, painful, dangerous. They can be cleansing, a new experience. They can scar you for life and wipe away the past so you can focus on the future. Life-changing events happen. You just have to be able to come out on the other side, no matter if you've gained a new scar or two. Allison's story is an honest one, a very honest one, and hopefully readers will appreciate that.
(I received an advance copy of this book to review from Penguin Canada.)