Burning Blue

PGS-small-burningblue-coverHow far would you go for love, beauty, and jealousy? When Nicole Castro, the most beautiful girl in her wealthy New Jersey high school, is splashed with acid on the left side of her perfect face, the whole world takes notice. But quiet loner Jay Nazarro does more than that–he decides to find out who did it. Jay understands how it feels to be treated like an outsider, and he also has a secret: He’s a brilliant hacker. But the deeper he digs, the more danger he’s in–and the more he falls for Nicole. Too bad everyone is turning into a suspect, including Nicole herself. Dial 2012, Penguin Teen.


* Publishers Weekly (starred): The idea of finding beauty and value where most see ugliness and ruin runs through Griffin’s novels, and he brings that theme into sharp focus in this chilling, of-the-moment mystery. After popular and gorgeous senior Nicole Castro is sprayed in the face with acid in the halls of her New Jersey high school, 16-year-old Jay Nazarro, a closeted hacker with epilepsy, is determined to uncover who is behind the attack. The brunt of the narrative follows Jay’s investigation, as well as his developing relationship with Nicole, while interspersed entries from Nicole’s diaries, her shrinks’ notes, and e-mails from the perpetrator add depth (yes, there are red herrings, but as Jay discovers, nearly every potential suspect has a secret). Jay is an accomplished hacker—he’s not infallible, but he could hold his own in a Cory Doctorow novel—and tech-obsessed readers will love seeing him adapt cellphones, computers, and Web sites to his advantage. As always, Griffin (Stay with Me) fills his story with fascinating, distinctive characters whose interior and exterior struggles are closely entwined. Ages 14–up.

* VOYA (starred, 5/5 P, 5/5 Q): Nicole Castro had beauty, a rich family, and popularity.  That was until acid was thrown onto her face and she was permanently disfigured.   As Nicole tries to recover and adjust to her life with half of her face bandaged and scarred, she is plagued by news crews trying to follow her story, her fear of being seen, and constant pain.   She also fears that her attacker will strike again.  But who was cruel enough to do such a thing to Nicole? Even though Jay is not friends with Nicole before the accident, as he decides to search for the perpetrator, he finds himself growing closer to her. Burning Blue has all of the elements of classic mystery writing:  a criminal act, numerous suspects with motive, and red herrings.  The modern setting and situations will make this mystery a hit with young adults.  The characters are believable, well-developed, and flawed. Jay, the computer-hacking outsider, throws himself into a unique mystery-solving journey and discovers startling evidence that makes one wonder how far a person will go to get what they want.  A dull moment does not exist in this fast-paced, modern mystery.  This book will be a great addition to any fiction collection for adolescents.—Dianna Geers.

* Library Media Connection (starred): Jay Nazarro is a 16-year-old computer hacker with epilepsy. Nicole Castro is a rich, smart, popular beauty queen. When someone squirts corrosive acid in Nicole’s face in a vicious and spiteful attack, she retreats from the public and hides beneath her bandages. Jay becomes the one person Nicole will talk to and the only one willing to bring her attacker to justice. Jay identifies the attacker, and helps Nicole put the pieces of her life back together. The acid that destroyed her face never touched the inner person he comes to know and love. This poignant, romantic mystery, told through Jay’s no-nonsense point of view, is a suspenseful, memorable exploration of love, identity, and beauty. The book contains some strong language. Jenny MacKay, Children’s Author, Sparks, Nevada. Highly Recommended

Burning Blue is terrific. It challenges the notion of where beauty lies and reminds us what true friendship, loyalty, and love really mean. I gobbled up this page-turning mystery. Paul Griffin has a new fan.” — Jennifer Brown, author of HATE LIST

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: Recovering from a recent acid attack that left much of her face burned and scarred, former teen beauty queen Nicole Castro is barely holding back her tears as she waits in the school shrink’s office, while sixteen-year-old Jay Nazarro, awkward loner extraordinaire, is thinking of something to say. He somehow manages the right words and the two strike up a friendship, bonding over their now shared status as freaks. As his affection for Nicole grows, Jay becomes intent on finding out who exactly attacked Nicole and why, but his hacking skills and investigative queries are turning up answers he’s not quite ready to deal with, especially when they point in the direction of Nicole. Having done gritty realism in Ten Mile River (BCCB 9/08) and doomed romance in Stay With Me (BCCB 11/11), Paul Griffin here takes on another genre, giving readers a taut, disturbing thriller anchored with moments of incredible poignancy and emotional resonance. All the elements are there—a beautiful girl looking for a hero, a damaged kid with savant-like investigative skills and considerable curiosity, a list of suspects a mile long, and a tankful of red herrings. Jay’s narration is all teenage boy, but his desire to help Nicole is more than just hormones or even the need to feel needed: he can’t figure out how to exist in a world where an act this horrendous could possibly be random. It turns out to be very deliberate indeed, and the eventual revelation of the mastermind of the acid plot is quite the twist. While the mostly mild moments between Jay and Nicole don’t provide the swoony romance of Stay with Me, readers will nonetheless be swept up in this thoughtful, well-paced mystery that will have hearts racing.

Kirkus Reviews: Griffin fleshes out a gripping whodunit with a host of believable teen characters. Nicole is wealthy, popular and beautiful right up until someone throws acid in her face in the corridor of her high school and just as quickly disappears. Classmate Jay, a talented hacker and perennial social outcast with partially controlled epilepsy, surprises himself by resolving to discover the perpetrator. Could it have been her boyfriend, Dave, who is hiding something and was the last person to be seen with her that day? Or did fellow outsider Angela, who joins forces with Jay, have an axe to grind? How about the school janitor, who keeps a big jug of acid in his office? Or even Nicole herself? Jay’s slightly edgy, self-deprecating voice matches perfectly with his determined and cleverly inquisitive investigative efforts. Readily mocked and dismissed by classmates because of his seizures, he makes a perfect sleuth. Observing others keenly, he remains apart from the drama right up until he falls for Nicole. His hacking activities are both amusing and also surprisingly gratifying. While readers will probably already have judged—and found wanting—the eventually exposed perpetrator, they will still be astonished by the person’s identity. A taut thriller explores the evolving relationship between two outsider teens, at first defined by their shared defectiveness but later superseding it. (Mystery. 12 & up)

School Library Journal – Gr 8 Up–Griffin has upped the ante with this engrossing page-turner that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. He retains his penchant for characters who are broken and battered by the vicissitudes of life and who struggle to find meaning and happiness. However, no matter how tragic the situation, he injects a poignant humanity and hopefulness into the most desperate of circumstances. Readers meet Nicole Castro, who is beautiful, brilliant, and popular. Her life completely changes the day that her perfect face is deliberately marred by acid. Classmate Jay Nazarro is determined to discover the perpetrator of this heinous and violent attack. A computer geek, Jay has become a recluse due to the humiliation he suffered when he had a seizure in front of the entire student body. The two form a tenuous alliance, searching for motives and possible suspects. Alternating narratives, email messages, journal entries, and therapist notes chronicle Jay’s investigation and the shocking unraveling of the truth. Jay’s snarky bravado, biting commentary, and personal anxiety provide an excellent counterpoint to Nicole’s piercing, heartbreaking inner dialogue. These realistic portraits will resonate with readers, who will appreciate this story on many levels: as a psychological study, social commentary, a puzzling mystery, or tender romance. Allusions to Picasso’s Girl in Front of a Mirror should send readers off to explore this contemporary art classic. Another stellar offering from this talented author.–Barbara M. Moon, Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Horn Book: Jay Nazarro has returned to public high school after two years of self-imposed homeschooling exile due to an embarrassing seizure in front of the entire student body. He quickly finds himself drawn to Nicole Castro, the most beautiful girl in school—at least she was the most beautiful until a savage acid attack burned off half her face. As the two become friends, Jay finds himself romantically attracted to Nicole and vows to use his superior computer hacking skills to solve the crime that continues to baffle the police and bewitch the paparazzi: who threw the acid? Jay’s first-person narrative incorporates snippets from Nicole’s journal and various hacked pieces of video, sound, and text to cast suspicion on various members of a large and interesting cast of characters. Through the machinations of the plot (which are credible more often than not), Griffin (Stay with Me, rev. 1/12) teases out various motives and sets up red herrings in this suspenseful mystery with elements of romance, high school dynamics, and teenage angst. This fourth novel establishes Griffin as one of the better writers of contemporary realistic fiction for a high school audience.  Jonathan Hunt


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