Review: Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

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Atlanta Burns, Chuck Wendig’s newest bind-up, follows a young heroine of the same name. Atlanta is surly, oddly compelled to do good, and very much haunted. Mostly she’s just getting through high school and trying not to give into sleep, where her past comes alive. When she’s awake and out of the house, she finds herself battling neo-Nazis, bullies, and corrupt police officials. Atlanta is Veronica Mars without the resources, friends, or safety of home.

Atlanta is finally adjusting to life after her shooting her mother’s ex-boyfriend. She’s making new friends and regaining a sense of belonging, tentative though it may be. Her new friends, Chris and Shane, geeks to say the least, have attached themselves to her, despite her reluctance. Then Chris dies, supposedly of suicide. But Atlanta isn’t so sure. She was never too far from a vigilante and, now, her self-control is going to be tested.

Atlanta herself is a decently complex character. She’s suffering from trauma, probably some PTSD and depression. She’s isolated. She will express frustration with others, and simultaneously long to be around people. She’s impulsive and has a serious sense of right and wrong.

However, I found myself to be frustrated with her. I wanted to see her have a moment or two where she looks at her behavior, sees her problems, and wants to be different, even if she doesn’t have the will or ability to change. I wanted her to have a self-reflective moment.

I also was a bit skeptical of her situation. After her assault, her mother’s behavior, and the nature of her self-defense, I was very surprised that Atlanta (1) didn’t have a state-presence in her life like a social worker, and (2) that there wasn’t any mandatory counseling. It just seemed a bit too unrealistic that there would be nothing, not even an incompetent of ineffective attempt at assistance for her.

She also shoots a lot of guns at people without really seeming to ever get into any trouble, and there are a lot of violent sociopaths living in her town, going to her school.

The side characters were interesting enough. There wasn’t a ton of development with them, but, by and large, they weren’t consistently present in the story. They’re all a bit gullible or unreasonably afraid of Atlanta. Her run-in with the police was violent, yes. People are scared she’ll do it again, but there were some pretty extenuating circumstances that led to her shooting a man. It seemed a bit unrealistic that everyone thinks she’ll do the same to them, also a bit too convenient. She needs leverage to keep the story moving, but I don’t know that the threat of her shooting people was really the way to go about giving it to her.

The story itself often feels episodic from one chapter to the next. Though there is an overarching plot and recurring characters, it doesn’t always seem to be very focused. It can be fun and fast-paced, but there are definitely times where it seems like the “main” plot has been abandoned or like there isn’t a lot of cohesion.

Rating: ***

I received a copy of Atlanta Burns for free in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley.

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