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How to Set a Fire and Why

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Lucia's father is dead; her mother is in a mental institute; she's living in a garage-turned-bedroom with her aunt. And now she's been kicked out of school—again. Making her way through the world with only a book, a zippo lighter, a pocket full of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and striking intelligence she tries to hide, she spends her days riding the bus to visit her mot Lucia's father is dead; her mother is in a mental institute; she's living in a garage-turned-bedroom with her aunt. And now she's been kicked out of school—again. Making her way through the world with only a book, a zippo lighter, a pocket full of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and striking intelligence she tries to hide, she spends her days riding the bus to visit her mother and following the only rule that makes any sense to her: Don't do things you aren't proud of. But when she discovers that her new school has a secret Arson Club, she's willing to do anything to be a part of it, and her life is suddenly lit up. And as her fascination with the Arson Club grows, her story becomes one of misguided friendship and, ultimately, destruction.


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Lucia's father is dead; her mother is in a mental institute; she's living in a garage-turned-bedroom with her aunt. And now she's been kicked out of school—again. Making her way through the world with only a book, a zippo lighter, a pocket full of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and striking intelligence she tries to hide, she spends her days riding the bus to visit her mot Lucia's father is dead; her mother is in a mental institute; she's living in a garage-turned-bedroom with her aunt. And now she's been kicked out of school—again. Making her way through the world with only a book, a zippo lighter, a pocket full of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and striking intelligence she tries to hide, she spends her days riding the bus to visit her mother and following the only rule that makes any sense to her: Don't do things you aren't proud of. But when she discovers that her new school has a secret Arson Club, she's willing to do anything to be a part of it, and her life is suddenly lit up. And as her fascination with the Arson Club grows, her story becomes one of misguided friendship and, ultimately, destruction.

30 review for How to Set a Fire and Why

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Do you remember as a child how easy it seemed to solve life's problems? If all the rich people shared their excess, then there would be no poor. Simple, right? In How to Set a Fire and Why, a teenage girl: Lucia discusses how she would go about making this the norm. No homelessness, no hunger, no more daily struggling, and certainly no fat old money staring down their noses at the one's who weren't born so lucky. But Lucia is sort of special. Her personal life stressors combined with her impatie Do you remember as a child how easy it seemed to solve life's problems? If all the rich people shared their excess, then there would be no poor. Simple, right? In How to Set a Fire and Why, a teenage girl: Lucia discusses how she would go about making this the norm. No homelessness, no hunger, no more daily struggling, and certainly no fat old money staring down their noses at the one's who weren't born so lucky. But Lucia is sort of special. Her personal life stressors combined with her impatient but advanced thought processes have dropped her impulse control down to zero. She wants this to happen and she wants everyone on board...now. Most adolescents on the brim of independence need a sense of control. They can smell the freedom but they can't reach it and it's enough to drive anyone crazy. Lucia finds her control in her late father's trusty Zippo lighter. It creates fire if she allows it. Things are not on fire because she has not made it so. She has total control of what burns. She alone chooses. I absolutely loved Lucia's character. She's angry, entitled, unapologetic, in-your-face, unchallenged, and bored as most kids with smart minds usually are. While there may be a lot going on with her, her message is almost childlike at its core. Life has been unfair to her, she's grieving and alone, she wants life to be different...to be better. I am slowly but surely making my way through Jesse Ball's books and this one is my favorite to date. I'm looking forward to the next. My favorite quote: "You will keep it in your pocket as a sort of token. Stick your hand in there now and then as you go around and remember: all the buildings that exist, all the grand structures of wealth and power, they remain standing because you permit them to remain. With this little lick of flame in your pocket, with this little gift of Prometheus, you can reduce everyone to a sort of grim equality. All those who ride on a high horse may be made to walk. Therefore when you are at the bank and the bank manager speaks roughly to you, when you are denied entrance to a restaurant or other place of business, when you are made to work longer than you should need to, when you are driven out of your own little dwelling and made to live in the street, reach into your pocket, caress your own little vehicle of flame and feel the comfort there. We shall set fires—and when we set them, we shall know why."

  2. 4 out of 5

    L A i N E Y

    ”Can you imagine? That you can say something, offhand, and it can matter, it can really matter to someone else? Can you imagine what it’s like to hear something like that? To hear someone say something and feel the world ripple around you.” Oh How to Set a Fire and Why what an odd little book you are. What an oddball collection of characters you got and the sweetest sweetheart of an Auntie there is. I feel you. I feel you even where the writing is very detached and I certainly feel you when it ma ”Can you imagine? That you can say something, offhand, and it can matter, it can really matter to someone else? Can you imagine what it’s like to hear something like that? To hear someone say something and feel the world ripple around you.” Oh How to Set a Fire and Why what an odd little book you are. What an oddball collection of characters you got and the sweetest sweetheart of an Auntie there is. I feel you. I feel you even where the writing is very detached and I certainly feel you when it manages to touch my heart... “Just in case the letter doesn’t get all the way to you, I gave it some wings so it could fly the rest of the way.” Lucia was such a ferocious little genius-y oddball girl, I sincerely do not know how else to describe her: she’s super tough and she’s utterly true to herself all of the times - it makes me envious many times over I can tell you. “(view spoiler)[My aunt’s stroke had felt pretty real too. (hide spoiler)] I guess real things happen all at once, and then you go back to the false parade of garbage that characterizes modern life. Well, I don’t want to go back there.” I am so weak for a flourish relationship between a young lady and her elder relatives. I am just mush for Lucia and Lucy. (view spoiler)[ And that final letter Lucy left for her?? (hide spoiler)] I was basically inconsolable. “(view spoiler)[It is a sad thing that I imagine I will not live (hide spoiler)] to see you become utterly her—become her whom you will be inalienably. That person, I feel, will be someone to behold.” “(view spoiler)[ Goodbye for now, (hide spoiler)] Your strongest supporter always, Lucy”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    Jesse Ball is one of the most interesting writers around PERIOD. He is fearless, inventive, and somehow manages to have a distinct voice although his books all have their own peculiar vibe: I just loved the enigmatic Census (winner of the Gordon Burn Prize 2018, and rightly so), and while it would be more apt so say that I rather admired than loved "How to Set a Fire and Why", the sound of its teenage narrator Lucia intrigued me. To write from the perspective of a rebellious teen can easily take Jesse Ball is one of the most interesting writers around PERIOD. He is fearless, inventive, and somehow manages to have a distinct voice although his books all have their own peculiar vibe: I just loved the enigmatic Census (winner of the Gordon Burn Prize 2018, and rightly so), and while it would be more apt so say that I rather admired than loved "How to Set a Fire and Why", the sound of its teenage narrator Lucia intrigued me. To write from the perspective of a rebellious teen can easily take a turn for the pretentious and embarrasing, but certainly not in the hands of this author: Lucia is smart, strong and fragile at the same time as she is trying to come to terms with the tough world around her. With her father dead and her mother in a mental institution, she is living in a garage with her beloved elderly aunt. At school, she is struggling, because she is unwilling to play by rules she perceives as hollow - this clever misfit is under a lot of pressure, and didn't we all feel like burning everything to the ground at some point? Although still young, she has no illusions regarding the workings of the world and feels a sense of futility, but nevertheless she believes that people can be kind (or at least kinder) to each other if they want to - but what if they don't? Lucia, who always carries her late father's zippo with her, joins a mysterious "Arson Club" and starts to write a pamphlet entitled "How to Set a Fire and Why" in which she elaborates on arson as a form of resistance against an oppressive system that values wealth and property above anything else. This novel is held together by the captivating voice of Ball's narrator while the text itself digresses again and again - it's part of the poetic concept and helps to unfold Lucia's worldview, but I found it a little tedious sometimes (I'm generally struggling with meandering narratives, it's just not my thing). While it becomes clear that Ball once more wrote a book which is, at its core, dealing with questions of compassion, I found parts of Lucia's pamphlet slightly placative, which put me off because the book truly shines in its most edgy passages. Still, I absolutely love Jesse Ball and have the greatest admiration for his work and his world of ideas. I can't wait to read whatever he comes up with next.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Sullivan

    This is my third Jesse Ball novel and I have to say: I can’t think of another contemporary author who has such an original and inventive voice and style. The best thing about Ball is that he’s no one-trick pony: the only thing his books have in common is that they are each wholly unique. In How to Set a Fire and Why, his protagonist is a teenage girl named Lucia, who tells us her story through a series of journal entries. The best way I can describe Lucia is like this: Imagine Holden Caulfield if This is my third Jesse Ball novel and I have to say: I can’t think of another contemporary author who has such an original and inventive voice and style. The best thing about Ball is that he’s no one-trick pony: the only thing his books have in common is that they are each wholly unique. In How to Set a Fire and Why, his protagonist is a teenage girl named Lucia, who tells us her story through a series of journal entries. The best way I can describe Lucia is like this: Imagine Holden Caulfield if he were into arson, class warfare and vigilante justice. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, I don’t know what to tell you. Lucia’s father is dead and her mother is in a mental institution. She lives with her 75-year-old aunt, who fully supports her niece’s myriad outlets for teen rebellion. After getting kicked out of her previous high school, Lucia finds a way to fit in at her new school: she join’s a secret Arson Club. I’m afraid I’m making this all sound very dark, but it’s not. Lucia’s voice is hilarious, sardonic and sarcastic. She’s smart enough to rationalize her penchant for destruction, insightful enough to clarify that while she doesn’t think there’s meaning in anything, she also doesn’t find nihilism exciting. Lucia is a unique new voice in teen rebellion, convinced that what she sets out to do is right and just. Most of us have been there before, though hopefully not to the point of committing felonies. Still, it’s hard to feel anything but love for this subversive character. I recommend this book to anyone who is drawn to quirky novels, from Chuck Palahniuk’s nihilism and anarchy to Miranda July’s peculiar tenderness.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Lucia Stanton is a cynical 14-year-old misfit who lives with her elderly aunt in a garage. At first she only supports the idea of arson, but events draw her into getting personally involved. This is one of those fairly rare novels that stand out immediately for the first-person voice. Lucia reminded me of Holden Caulfield or of Mim Malone from David Arnold’s Mosquitoland. She’s like a cynical philosopher. For as heartbreaking as her family history is, she was always either making me laugh or imp Lucia Stanton is a cynical 14-year-old misfit who lives with her elderly aunt in a garage. At first she only supports the idea of arson, but events draw her into getting personally involved. This is one of those fairly rare novels that stand out immediately for the first-person voice. Lucia reminded me of Holden Caulfield or of Mim Malone from David Arnold’s Mosquitoland. She’s like a cynical philosopher. For as heartbreaking as her family history is, she was always either making me laugh or impressing me with her wisdom. Although this is his sixth novel, I hadn’t heard much about Jesse Ball prior to picking it up. His skill at creating the interior world of a troubled 14-year-old girl leads me to believe that the rest of his work would be well worth a look. See my full review at The Bookbag.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    I loved this - Lucia's voice is blisteringly funny, dark and unapologetically idealistic. She's been dealt a shit hand in life and she's angry at the fakes, idiots and condescending adults that she has to deal with every day. The writing is fantastic - I completely bought into Lucia as a narrator and was knocked out by her smart, sad and hilarious take on the world. I'm definitely going to chase down more of Jesse Ball's books.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Wow, what a book. I can't figure out another author who writes like Jesse Ball does. He suffuses so much artistry and philosophy into his writing and characters that his books are hard to classify. Longer review to come. This is a toughie to digest, but I am very impressed and highly recommend it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    “I … thought about the fire. I know it was just an abandoned building but I felt like something had happened, a real thing for once. My aunt’s stroke had felt pretty real too. I guess real things happen all at once, and then you go back to the false parade of garbage that characterizes modern life” How To Set a Fire And Why is the sixth novel by American author, Jesse Ball. Lucia Stanton lives in virtual poverty with her elderly Aunt Margaret in a garage at the back of a messy garden. She has be “I … thought about the fire. I know it was just an abandoned building but I felt like something had happened, a real thing for once. My aunt’s stroke had felt pretty real too. I guess real things happen all at once, and then you go back to the false parade of garbage that characterizes modern life” How To Set a Fire And Why is the sixth novel by American author, Jesse Ball. Lucia Stanton lives in virtual poverty with her elderly Aunt Margaret in a garage at the back of a messy garden. She has been thrown out of her last school for anti-social behaviour and now attends Whistler High School. When her aunt gives her a notebook with a black felted cover, she decides to use in to write down her predictions: The Book Of How Things Will Go. It is apparent from her narrative that Lucia is intelligent: a lot smarter than some of her teachers. But Lucia has a subversive streak, and her aunt supports her individuality. Along with predictions, Lucia relates the events of her life in an almost stream-of-consciousness style. And, after some interaction with would-be fire-setters at her new school, she also records in her notebook, her own pamphlet: HOW TO SET A FIRE AND WHY. Lucia’s behaviour may be related to the reason that her mother is essentially catatonic in a care facility, that her father is dead (his Zippo lighter is her only remaining piece of him), and that her aunt is now her guardian. But whatever those events may be, they are never revealed to the reader. Lucia is bright and audacious, but for older readers, may be a little difficult to relate to, and some readers may have difficulty with the lack of quotation marks for speech. Kelly Blair has designed a brilliantly clever cover to showcase this highly original novel. 3.5★s

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    If J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield had a tryst with Stephen King’s Carrie, perhaps she would be a bit like Lucia Stanton – cynical, disillusioned, subversive, self-aware, and lost. Her father is dead, her mother is ailing, and she lives full-time with her destitute yet caring aunt, in a converted garage. Every day, she wears the same “uniform” to school, where she is marginalized. Unlike her schoolmates, who are burning with the promise of adolescence, Lucia’s flame may be predestined to quickl If J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield had a tryst with Stephen King’s Carrie, perhaps she would be a bit like Lucia Stanton – cynical, disillusioned, subversive, self-aware, and lost. Her father is dead, her mother is ailing, and she lives full-time with her destitute yet caring aunt, in a converted garage. Every day, she wears the same “uniform” to school, where she is marginalized. Unlike her schoolmates, who are burning with the promise of adolescence, Lucia’s flame may be predestined to quickly burn out. Until she meets up with other misfits in the Sonar Club (an acronym for Arson Club) and seriously begins to explore how she can set fire to the world. There is, indeed, a manifesto printed within these pages that fulfills the promise of the title: stating how to set a fire and why. It is the “why” that fuels the narrative of the book. For those whose promising flames are being extinguished by hypocrisy and injustice, inability to embrace those who are different (or even to recognize their potential), and forced to participate in the “false parade of garbage that characterizes modern life”, burning down the past and striking out for new horizons (evocative of Huckleberry Finn) sometimes seems the only solution. I expect to be prodded and provoked by Jesse Ball’s prose; no two past efforts have been alike. How to Build A Fire And Why does not disappoint.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Readers are like small time loan sharks, to whom authors are perpetually in debt. The reader agrees to invest their time, and expect to be paid back with a good story. Readers don't care if you hit a dry spell. They don't care if the baby is crying all night. They don't care if your adjunct classes are eating more of your time than you expected. Payment is due on the last page. Page 50: "Now, Author. I'm agreeing to give you the time, but this wasn't a gift. You have to pay this back." "Of course Readers are like small time loan sharks, to whom authors are perpetually in debt. The reader agrees to invest their time, and expect to be paid back with a good story. Readers don't care if you hit a dry spell. They don't care if the baby is crying all night. They don't care if your adjunct classes are eating more of your time than you expected. Payment is due on the last page. Page 50: "Now, Author. I'm agreeing to give you the time, but this wasn't a gift. You have to pay this back." "Of course, Mr. Reader. I'm good for it. You can trust me." Page 100: "This is starting to look literary, Author. A big ring of talk circling planet nothing. I'm starting to think that there might be no story here at all. I'm getting the feeling that I get when I start reading a literary fleece job." "Mr. Reader. This is a story. It is not a fleece job. It will pay. I promise." Page 183: "Author. Now, I have to call you in because you're replacing actual writing with cheap formatting tricks. Two columns. One word pages. Lots of White space. This is not writing. You have to make your payments. The reader needs to be paid." "Mr. Reader, I don't know what to say. Let me pay you what I can now and I'll get back on track. This will be great. You'll see." Page 200: "Author? There were some pages missing at the end of the story. Some pages that contained the actual action? The pages that you promised with 200 plus pages of missed payments and character portraits. Author? Open the door and let's talk about this, Author. Open. The. Door." [Author slips out through the bathroom window] Months Later: (The man formerly known as) Author reverently closes his book and removes the glasses from the end of his nose. He looks out into the small group of fawning fans. No one will raise the question where the actual action in the story is, or why he cut and ran before the action occurred. To do so would be to admit that one does not understand literary works. These were not common people. These were literary people rich with time to lavish upon him whether or not (more likely not) he paid them back. Payment was vulgar. Spending was the norm. This is where he would thrive. This book will owe you. To read it, you just have to decide whether you care or not.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)

    Lucia is a badass teenager, living with her aunt in a garage converted into a rental suite they haven't been able to pay the rent on for quite a while. She visits her mom in the mental hospital once a week despite her mom having no idea who her daughter or she herself is. Lucia's most treasured possession is her dead dad's Zippo lighter, which she guards with her life because "every time someone touches it there is less of him on it. His corpse is actually on it—I mean, not his death corpse, but Lucia is a badass teenager, living with her aunt in a garage converted into a rental suite they haven't been able to pay the rent on for quite a while. She visits her mom in the mental hospital once a week despite her mom having no idea who her daughter or she herself is. Lucia's most treasured possession is her dead dad's Zippo lighter, which she guards with her life because "every time someone touches it there is less of him on it. His corpse is actually on it—I mean, not his death corpse, but his regular one, the body that falls off us all the time." A classmate violated her don't-touch-the-lighter rule, she stabbed him with her pencil, and Lucia got expelled from yet another school. It sounds dark, right? It is dark, but joyously so because of Lucia's wit, brutal honesty, and general badassedness. For example, here she is in a counseling session, when the guidance counsellor makes the mistake of quoting a Rumi poem at her: I said, you small-minded bitch, you think that is poetry? Of all Rumi’s goddamned poems, you pick that one? Did you find it in some psych-nonsense anthology? That has to be his worst poem, and it isn’t even translated well. How does it feel to wade around in life so hopelessly? You are just mired in shit. You’re so limited … I laughed some more. Of all the poems, that one. She was looking at me in shock. I think she was actually speechless, so I gave her some more. Whoever’s calm and sensible is insane. What? I said, that’s Rumi. Or didn’t you know? Lucia, as you might have already gathered, has trouble making friends. At her new school, she does have a bit better luck, especially when she gets wind of an arson club. That sounds right up her alley. I felt bad for her, worried about her, loved her, rooted for her. She cracked me up a hundred times. I finished reading the novel a couple of weeks ago: Lucia continues to stomp around, brilliant and brash, inside me. Like she owns the place.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carla Stafford

    Lucia is a tough, young woman who doesn't fit in. Her dad is dead, her mom is in an institution, and she lives with her (seemingly and endearingly) batty but philosophically enlightened old aunt. Lucia is well read, and even more well spoken-she has nothing but her somewhat twisted ideals, the notebook she writes random predictions in, and her stolen licorice. Lucia is an avid reader, with advanced thoughts and a vocabulary that would shame the kids of Dawson's Creek. All Lucia has leftover from Lucia is a tough, young woman who doesn't fit in. Her dad is dead, her mom is in an institution, and she lives with her (seemingly and endearingly) batty but philosophically enlightened old aunt. Lucia is well read, and even more well spoken-she has nothing but her somewhat twisted ideals, the notebook she writes random predictions in, and her stolen licorice. Lucia is an avid reader, with advanced thoughts and a vocabulary that would shame the kids of Dawson's Creek. All Lucia has leftover from her old life however, is anger, pain, abandonment, and her dad's old zippo lighter. So when the measly shreds of her world are ripped loose, and blow away-what else is Lucia to do, but to look for a way to equalize the ruthless, arbitrary ways of the world in an effort to return ashes to ashes-and begin again phoenix style. How to Start a Fire and Why, by Jesse Ball is an addictive read. As a reader, I found myself liking Lucia-feeling for her-agreeing with her on numerous points, while seeing the flaws in her judgement. Lucia has a powerful voice, that I will not soon forget.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ylenia

    What the actual heck did I just read? Update: I finished this more than a week ago & I'm still confused AF. What the actual heck did I just read? Update: I finished this more than a week ago & I'm still confused AF.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    Lucia Stanton has some issues. As the novel opens, she is being expelled from her school for stabbing a fellow student with a pencil. In her eyes, this was perfectly reasonable behaviour because she had warned her victim what would happen if he touched her most treasured possession: a cigarette lighter that had belonged to her father. That’s when I said, your little prince basketball hero shouldn’t have touched my lighter. Then I wouldn’t have put a pencil in his neck. (Entirely coincidentally, th Lucia Stanton has some issues. As the novel opens, she is being expelled from her school for stabbing a fellow student with a pencil. In her eyes, this was perfectly reasonable behaviour because she had warned her victim what would happen if he touched her most treasured possession: a cigarette lighter that had belonged to her father. That’s when I said, your little prince basketball hero shouldn’t have touched my lighter. Then I wouldn’t have put a pencil in his neck. (Entirely coincidentally, this is the second book I have read this week where a cigarette lighter takes a key role (cf. Summerwater by Sarah Moss)). Lucia is anti-social and has an unusual outlook on life. But don’t get the idea that she is a thug or stupid. She is the cleverest person in her school. She reads a LOT. Early on she is impressed when she sees a fellow student in her new school reading Trakl, she argues with her psychologist about quotes from Rumi and how best to translate them and her reading list as mentioned in the book is fairly challenging (for example, The Theatre and Its Double, Barbarian in the Garden, Poor Richard's Almanac & Familiar Letters). Lucia is a complex character. It is interesting to look at the reviews of this book because they seem to be undecided about Lucia. Some see her as a well-developed character and others see her as some kind of trope and under-developed as a person. I fall into the first category: I can imagine that Lucia as a person will stay with me for some time after I shelve this book. Lucia lives with her aunt Lucy (I had to struggle to stop thinking about Paddington Bear at times while reading the book) and they share a life of poverty. Lucy is an eccentric character (another one who will live on in my imagination for a long time) but a firm supporter of Lucia despite her issues. Lucia is very interested in fire. Or, more specifically, arson. When her new school presents her with an opportunity to join an arson club, she is immediately interested. The title of the book is also the title of a pamphlet that Lucy writes (reproduced in the book) which argues the case for arson as a mean of fighting back against oppression. What do we hate? We hate when we see people prevented from having what is necessary and least. Others may talk of owning horses and riding in elegant machines on broad roads built just for them. We deplore such things. What’s more, we have an intention, and our intention is this: WE WILL BURN THEM OUT. Events in the story conspire to mean Lucia has to work out how to make her theoretical pamphlet a practical reality. To finish with a lengthy quote from entropymag.com which picks up on the “why” in the book’s title because that is where Ball chooses to focus the book as it progresses: As Lucia’s story progresses, Ball challenges us to ask the ‘why’ in our own lives and whatever philosophies we’ve settled on. Lucia is not depicted as a stereotypical heroine, but not as an anti-heroine, either. She is simply a rational human being trapped in a world of insanity, as many of us can feel sometimes. Though very intelligent, she is susceptible to the same failings we are. Something about the honesty with which her thoughts are written create electrifying highs and lows for the reader, as if your empathy for her can leave you personally reeling when things start to deteriorate. Unlike a fictional protagonist who extolls all the virtues our particular culture aspires to, Lucia is like the person we’ve always been, without trying to meet all the impossible standards impressed upon us. She represents the side of us that sees the world for what it is, the one that knows all the fake smiling and pleasantries of modern life are simply an attractive justification for a fundamentally unfair world. The choices of how we respond to the circumstances of our lives are unique to the individual, but Ball gives us a look into a kind of character who we don’t see very much in contemporary media. When faced with the choice of protecting herself and her own, she will burn you down and not look back.

  15. 4 out of 5

    R K

    This is my first book by Jesse Ball and I can say with full confidence that a new author has joined the ranking of favourite authors. Going to the teenage years. The years where one is supposedly at the apex of their life. Where emotions run high and life is set against you. This is the stereotypical view of a teenager and their mental state. Into this world comes Lucia and she full of rage. Tentatively waiting for her ignition. Realistically speaking life is not a very happy one. It's not life' This is my first book by Jesse Ball and I can say with full confidence that a new author has joined the ranking of favourite authors. Going to the teenage years. The years where one is supposedly at the apex of their life. Where emotions run high and life is set against you. This is the stereotypical view of a teenager and their mental state. Into this world comes Lucia and she full of rage. Tentatively waiting for her ignition. Realistically speaking life is not a very happy one. It's not life's fault but that of its controller, humans. Sometimes you keep getting hit until you're past your breaking point and all you want to do is hit back. AHHHHHH.... My brain cannot handle the treasure this book it. It's so good. I really like this style of writing where it's more of a journalistic style so sometimes emotions are told to you bluntly. A lot in fact is told to you straightly but there is still room for interpretation by the reader. That's what makes for a good story. Why is it that we love old fairy tales? Despite being told straight to your face there is still room for interpretation. Room for ambiguity and self reflection by the reader. Ball himself introduces so many reflections and thoughts and essentially pokes and prods at society and their/your ideals. It's just such a good book that it's taken the thoughts that are in my head. I can't even write a coherent review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    I have wanted to re-read this for ages and it's even better on a second reading. Jesse Ball truly is the real deal. He spoiled us with three books in as many years and I'm not coping well waiting for what comes next. This book is for those who love unique character studies/voices along the lines of Eileen and Sorry to Disrupt the Peace.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Isabelle Smith

    It's another book written by a man who thinks he understands the mind of a teenage girl. This book is not what I expected, it actually focuses more on her relationships with her family that the arson club, which makes this book very cliche and played out.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joachim Stoop

    How versatile one can be!? This book is typical and atypical Jesse Ball. Loved it! Two tips: 1. Read it as young adult 2. Listen to the audiobook (the voice of the girl is exactly like the voice of the girl in the book!)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Willa McAllister

    Freaking hated this book. Only read it cause i have a reading challenge to finish. Let this book serve as a reminder that if a book description includes “edgy, raw, and hilarious” is actually means boring, pretentious, and mind numbing. Sometimes men just should not write.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Paul Fulcher

    The lighter does not have to be a very nice one. In fact it should be as non-descript as possible. You will keep it in a pocket as a sort of token. Stick your hand in there and remember; all the buildings that exist, all the grand structures of wealth and power, they remain standing because you permit them to remain. With this little lick of flame in your pocket, with this little gift of Prometheus, you can reduce everyone to a sort of grim equality. All those who ride on a high horse shall be m The lighter does not have to be a very nice one. In fact it should be as non-descript as possible. You will keep it in a pocket as a sort of token. Stick your hand in there and remember; all the buildings that exist, all the grand structures of wealth and power, they remain standing because you permit them to remain. With this little lick of flame in your pocket, with this little gift of Prometheus, you can reduce everyone to a sort of grim equality. All those who ride on a high horse shall be made to walk ... We shall set fires, - and when we set them we shall know why. My 8th Jesse Ball novel of 2019 - and another striking (pun intended) novel. How to Set a Fire and Why is in the form of a journal written by teenager Lucia Stanton. She begins: Some people hate cats. I don’t, I mean, I don’t personally hate cats, but I understand how a person could. I think everyone needs to have a cause, so for some people it is hating cats, and that’s fine. Each person needs to have his or her thing that they must do. Furthermore, they shouldn’t tell anyone else about it. They should keep it completely secret, as much as possible. At my last school no one believed me about my dad’s lighter. I always keep it with me. It’s the only thing I have from him. And every time someone touches it there is less of him on it. His corpse is actually on it—I mean, not his death corpse, but his regular one, the body that falls off us all the time. It’s what I have left of him, and I treasure it. So, I said, many times I said it, don’t touch this lighter or I will kill you. I think because I am a girl people thought I didn’t mean it. Ball explained in an interview (https://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Ma... :“As I wrote the first page, I was meeting this person for the first time. It jumps straight into what she thinks, how she’s thinking. Her rumination should be delightful, because there’s a lightness to young people’s thoughts. Her humor is the only defense she has against the enormity of the grief she’s facing. One of the other facets of her voice is that being precise is really important to her. She’s a person who’s actually trying to speak to the reader. She’s taking the reader into her heart.” Lucia lives, in poverty, with her elderly aunt (shades of Spiderman), after her father died and her mother severely mentally handicapped by an undisclosed incident. As the story opens she is being expelled from one school for stabbing the school jock in the neck with a pencil for attempting to steal her lighter. At her new school she tries to make friends but again sports prove a stumbling block: One girl asked me if I was going to go out for sports, which made me spit out the apple juice I was drinking. I said that sports were part of the spectacle. She said what. I said the ruling class. She looked confused. I said otherwise people would get fed up and they couldn’t be controlled, so no. I mean, I would go for a run if it was a nice day, or definitely swim. I would do judo or something if they had that. But chase a ball? Do I look like a dog? But she eventually comes across a small group of fellow misfits and the Sonar Club of teenage arsonists (sonar an anagram) with a rather nihlistic bent on life. This review (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/...) of the book memorably describes Ball’s own world view as “tender nihilism” although Lucia would correct this is her case: To sum up, let me tell you: I’m not one of those nihilistic types who thinks there is no meaning. I guess, I don’t think there’s meaning; there’s definitely no meaning, but not in a nihilistic way. I don’t find it exciting the way they do. The book includes her own manifesto on How to Set a Fire and Why, from which the opening quote of this review is taken. Lucia is also highly intelligent, quoting extensively from various sources, and, between chunks of her 'property is theft' manifesto. dispensing her own idiosyncratic aphorisms, for example: Which reminds me: I don’t buy this think about twins both getting to vote. To me, each group of DNA should get one vote. Lucia is a highly memorable character but this was perhaps my least favourite of the Ball novels I have read: - Ball's novels are usually set in a world that while recognisable in many respects is also rather surreal. Here the setting is essentially realistic which makes one more inclined to question implausibilities and call out tropes (although I suspect Ball would argue with the distinction to his other novels); - the wise-beyond-her-elders troubled YA trope seems rather well-trodden grounds and also not a genre of which I'm a fan (many reviews reach for the comparison to Holden Cauldfield, and Catcher in the Rye is a novel whose merits entirely pass me by; - one rather suspects the author himself shares some of Lucia's naively idealistic views of how to solve all the world's problems. This review http://www.runspotrun.com/book-review... rather highlights the resulting issue. 3 stars - a worthwhile read but far from Ball's best

  21. 4 out of 5

    Magdelanye

    Sometimes events speed up. You think you have a handle on them. You think you understand how one thing follows another, but then it turns out you can't even perceive what is about to happen, and before you know it, not only that but other things too-they all have happened and you're left standing in the rubble trying to figure out what to do. p228 WHAT THE HECK What is a pacifist who has issues with fire doing reading such a flagrant, incendiary title? In fact, I deplore the logic, quite liked the Sometimes events speed up. You think you have a handle on them. You think you understand how one thing follows another, but then it turns out you can't even perceive what is about to happen, and before you know it, not only that but other things too-they all have happened and you're left standing in the rubble trying to figure out what to do. p228 WHAT THE HECK What is a pacifist who has issues with fire doing reading such a flagrant, incendiary title? In fact, I deplore the logic, quite liked the book AUTHOR Jesse Ball is a prolific writer of fiction with over a dozen titles to his credit. Given that he has a love of the absurd (according to the reviews) I must say I found it somewhat absurd that this brooding, intense looking older man (according to his photo) would choose a teenage girl to channel his acute observations of a society in the throes of decay. He almost pulls it off but at times I could discern him hovering over her and it kind of creeped me out. NARRATOR Lucia Stanton is a scrupulous narrator with a fierce intelligence and a methodical passion to organize her tangled life. So she is sometimes rude and reckless and she steals and sneaks onto the bus. She has earned the chip on her shoulder. She schools herself in compassion and restraint but she is audacious when that snaps. Even if her father is dead and all she has of him is his old zippo lighter; even if her mother is catatonic and does not seem to notice her regular visits; never mind that she is living with her aunt in a converted garage: she has her principles. She has come to the conclusion that extreme measures are necessary in the service of restoring equilibrium to a world unbalanced by contradictions. She is burning with righteous indignation. WHAT HAPPENS Lucia gets kicked out of school, starts yet another; takes the long trek to visit her catatonic mother, makes a few friends, gets 6 detentions on a row; reads some interesting books, finds some surprising allies; develops her political analysis, writes a pamphlet; gets pushed out of school, again. Against this routine backdrop are the events that test her loyalty and confidence culminating in the dramatic conclusion. BEST THINGS Some of the wisecracks are spot on A pretty good depiction of teenage existential and political angst, the shifting allegiances and the experimental identities. WORST THINGS the dialogue *what about the dialogue? It sucks *.......... the faulty logic screams at me PREDICTIONS -this will be a cult classic. =probably it already is a cult classic and a video -I will investigate JB's backlist =probably find something I like more QUESTIONS What can be done for rebels-with-a-cause who do not appreciate or fit in to the school system? What can be done about apathy? What about rage? What can be done to restore justice and equilibrium to the world? Can violence ever be justified? CONCLUSIONS More must be done to meet the needs of disaffected youth. Critical thinking should be encouraged not stifled. Perhaps it is time for a restructuring of the hierarchical systems that are failing us. QUOTES The order of things matter. pp90 Don't do things you are not proud of. p35 Most people can't can't keep all the lies straight-and they end up believing everything. p37 The world is ludicrous. It is famished. It is greedy and adulterous. It is a wild place we inhabit, surely you agree? Well then we shall have to try and make some sense of it.p192 That it seems impossible for such kindness to exist os only for one reason. Wealth squeezes us, the wealthy squeeze us...until we cannot even help one another as we would naturally do, as it is already in our hearts to do. Never let yourself be squeezed in this way. My dear friend, my heart, resist it! RATING a hard book to rate it's zesty and its provocative if morally frightening so its not your average 3 but my utter rejection of the logic means that my disapproval overrides my enjoyment and so 3.5 rounded down in Gr system, 4/7 in mine

  22. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    For more reviews, visit www.ebooksandcooks.com So last week I wrote about Before the Fall and how I felt its author couldn’t write female characters with depth. Jesse Ball shows that male authors can write multidimensional female characters. Lucia, the protagonist and narrator of How to Set a Fire and Why, has a bit of masculine swagger, but a lot of women (including me) can relate to that to some degree. Lucia is a tough, sarcastic, whip-smart young woman. She has been dealt a lot of reverses in For more reviews, visit www.ebooksandcooks.com So last week I wrote about Before the Fall and how I felt its author couldn’t write female characters with depth. Jesse Ball shows that male authors can write multidimensional female characters. Lucia, the protagonist and narrator of How to Set a Fire and Why, has a bit of masculine swagger, but a lot of women (including me) can relate to that to some degree. Lucia is a tough, sarcastic, whip-smart young woman. She has been dealt a lot of reverses in life, and it makes her a very interesting character. Lucia’s father is dead and her mother is living in a mental institution. These two things are related, but why this happened is one of many unanswered questions in this book. She lives with her father’s sister, referred to in the book simply as Aunt. The only thing that she has kept that belonged to her father is his Zippo lighter. And that’s what has landed her in the principal’s office at the start of this book. A boy stole the Zippo, and she tried to stab him in the neck with a pencil. She gets expelled and heads to a new school. She and her aunt have an interesting view of ethics. One example she gives is that if someone has a guitar just sitting in her house that she never uses, then it is okay to steal that guitar to use it or to sell it. However, if she loves the guitar and plays it every day, then it is not ok to steal. These fungible ethics are what make the whole book possible. When Lucia starts at Whistler High School in the next town over, she already has a reputation as a dangerous girl, and the teachers are all over her. Since she doesn’t always behave like a lady, they believe she isn’t smart, but Lucia reads everything and anything. She reads authors so obscure I’ve never read or heard about them, and she has a natural ability to read people, too. Basically, she has book smarts and street smarts. Then she hears about Sonar Club. S-O-N-A-R = A-R-S-O-N The ideas of Arson Club fall in line with her ideas on redistributing wealth and resources. Lucia believes people who hoard wealth and trample on other people deserve a comeuppance. Arsonists in the club commit their crimes to take away means from those they feel don’t deserve it. “What cannot be shared should be destroyed” is their creed. When Lucia gets detention, she finds people who know more about Arson Club and gets invited to her first meeting. Throughout this book, Lucia gets a little ahead and then is dealt another reverse. For her, life is that mean person playing Uno that keeps on putting down Draw 4, moving winning further and further away. She’s able to make a few friends in addition to Arson Club and her aunt, but ultimately that’s not enough, and she makes a drastic choice. The book is not tied in a neat little bow. There are a lot of unanswered questions. If you don’t like that, avoid this book. Otherwise, I highly recommend it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Muntz

    I have conflicted feelings about this novel--it's a complete departure for Jesse Ball, and in a lot of ways it's a success. It's a kind of anti-coming-of-age novel made up mostly of detached, but fascinating and counterintuitive moments of introspection; the whole thing is fun to read, but there's also something sort of... thin to it. But it does a lot of things very well, and it's surprising how Lucia's voice carries a book so light on narrative or fleshed out characters. Not that the character I have conflicted feelings about this novel--it's a complete departure for Jesse Ball, and in a lot of ways it's a success. It's a kind of anti-coming-of-age novel made up mostly of detached, but fascinating and counterintuitive moments of introspection; the whole thing is fun to read, but there's also something sort of... thin to it. But it does a lot of things very well, and it's surprising how Lucia's voice carries a book so light on narrative or fleshed out characters. Not that the characters aren't interesting either--it's just, the novel only lingers on them as much as Lucia does, and for her, everyone is always just passing through. I think it works, basically, though it seems sort of like a curiosity rather than something I'd want to see again. The whole thing is more like a mood than a narrative, a sort of pleasant, bitter teenage haze with a few bits of lyricism and imagination that give a very delicate nod to Ball's other novels--but ultimately a bit flat and detached, especially when it came to the emotional weight I was hoping for near the end. I'd maybe even compare it to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a book I loved as a teenager, though this book is sort of the opposite thematically, with a weaker overall arc but a very deliberate cleverness from moment to moment. For me, it doesn't stand up to Silence Once Begun or A Cure for Suicide (which are both favorites), but it was interesting and I'm curious if it means Ball has other surprises like this on the way for us. I've been reading him for over a decade now and I'm eager to follow his work in any direction it might go.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laura Hogensen

    As a reader, this makes you separate yourself from the narrator. Lucia is clearly damaged and trying her best to cope. Because she's brilliant, her deadpan narration of her life and the things that happen to her might lure you in to thinking this is all ok or normal. Far from it. This was a hard read for me because the whole time I knew that things aren't going to be "ok". There was never going to be magical adult intervention. And while I cheered Lucia's ingenuity, I was also angry at the world As a reader, this makes you separate yourself from the narrator. Lucia is clearly damaged and trying her best to cope. Because she's brilliant, her deadpan narration of her life and the things that happen to her might lure you in to thinking this is all ok or normal. Far from it. This was a hard read for me because the whole time I knew that things aren't going to be "ok". There was never going to be magical adult intervention. And while I cheered Lucia's ingenuity, I was also angry at the world that lets such a talented but also fragile child slip further and further from innocence and untarnished happiness.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Moses

    Jesse Ball continues to impress me. How to Set a Fire and Why is about living with different morals, and the consequences of doing it. Ball constructs two morality systems–one, a hedonistic one that Lucia's family lives by, and the other an anarchist one focused on bringing about wealth equality, the credo of the arson club. Lucia slowly grafts the second onto the first one in the midst of her life unraveling, figuring out what it means for her to be true to her morals in society. This is complic Jesse Ball continues to impress me. How to Set a Fire and Why is about living with different morals, and the consequences of doing it. Ball constructs two morality systems–one, a hedonistic one that Lucia's family lives by, and the other an anarchist one focused on bringing about wealth equality, the credo of the arson club. Lucia slowly grafts the second onto the first one in the midst of her life unraveling, figuring out what it means for her to be true to her morals in society. This is complicated when she gets a tremendous opportunity, to go to an accelerated high school which practically guarantees her admission to a top college. Ball uses the language of young adult fiction to tell the ultimate growing up story, the story of wrestling through how to live a life. However, contrary to most young adult fiction, and in keeping with Ball's style, the structure of the book is fascinating and beautiful. He doesn't worry too much about consistency and switches from style to style quickly, without getting too self-conscious.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Esmé Boom

    How to Set a Fire and Why is easily one of my favourite books of 2020. I loved main character Lucia, but not as much as I loved Lucia's aunt. I love how Ball has written Lucia: she's emotionally a teenager, but her intelligence is obvious without it being mentioned all the time. Full of wisdom and cynic witticisms, this novel is laugh-out-loud funny, compassionate and manages to never loses a beat in its pace

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ray Sinclair

    Jesse Ball is brave to create this book’s narrator, Lucia Stanton, a character that brings Holden Caulfield so quickly and strongly to mind. Come too close to HC and Lucia Stanton will be labeled derivative. Stray too far and the authentic voice of a smart, cynical, disillusioned, wise-before-his/her-time young adult will be lost. Ball found the sweet spot in between with this sad, wonderful story. High-schooler Lucia is living in a garage with her aunt. They are so poor that Lucia shoplifts for Jesse Ball is brave to create this book’s narrator, Lucia Stanton, a character that brings Holden Caulfield so quickly and strongly to mind. Come too close to HC and Lucia Stanton will be labeled derivative. Stray too far and the authentic voice of a smart, cynical, disillusioned, wise-before-his/her-time young adult will be lost. Ball found the sweet spot in between with this sad, wonderful story. High-schooler Lucia is living in a garage with her aunt. They are so poor that Lucia shoplifts for groceries. Her father is absent, and her mother is in a mental hospital. Her near-desperate circumstances, the loss of her parents, and her healthy disapproval of a social system that tolerates a chasm between rich and poor drive her to real and imagined violence, tense interactions with adults (who mostly understand only a fraction of what Lucia knows about life and social order), and deft navigation of peer relationships. Her observations about and interactions with others are often hilarious, described with her ever-present cynicism. Lucia needs a way to express her loss and anger, and pyrotechnics is obviously on the agenda from the start. Getting to know Lucia makes this book worth the read all by itself, but Ball also skillfully kept me wondering where her grieving, clear-eyed genius would wind up in the final pages – and what she would do. I was not disappointed.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kelleen

    Quick read. A teenager angry at the world and processing her own angst. First 50 pages were good, after that it was really boring. She makes predictions about how life will go, but it's mostly just her routines, and because they are routine, that's what happens.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marquette

    Horrible. I couldn't get into this book and couldn't wait to finish reading it even though I didn't want to actually finish reading it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Presley

    I’m not sure how to describe my thoughts on this book. It gave me so many feelings about what the world is really like. I mean, I know that there is a reality in which we all live but the way that Lucia expresses her thoughts, in this very stream of consciousness way of conveying her beliefs and convictions was so refreshing. Young protagonists always get a lot of flack for their immature nature, and maybe Lucia isn't an exception, but she's definitely ahead of her peers when it comes to dealing I’m not sure how to describe my thoughts on this book. It gave me so many feelings about what the world is really like. I mean, I know that there is a reality in which we all live but the way that Lucia expresses her thoughts, in this very stream of consciousness way of conveying her beliefs and convictions was so refreshing. Young protagonists always get a lot of flack for their immature nature, and maybe Lucia isn't an exception, but she's definitely ahead of her peers when it comes to dealing with the hard aspects of life. Also, she's incredibly intelligent. Her family life is unconventional but she has a caring aunt who believes in her, and without having to discipline her the way most adults would, Lucia already knows that she shouldn't do things that she's not proud of. She holds onto pieces of the people that she loves in very special and different ways and from that the reader understands that Lucia is a sensitive soul. It doesn't matter if she stabbed someone in the neck with a pencil at this point (it's not really a spoiler, it's on page 3) because she was being protective of the very few things that she has. Sentimental heart. There were some mentions of death in this book and it made me think about a lot of things like how you never own a situation because the natural order of things are always out of your hands. Lucia's Predictions and What Happened narrations are proof that she's not in control of what happens in the very tiniest details of her life, she can only guess what happens to her based on what she knows about herself and her environment. "That's the trouble with the hospital--they find all the things that have been killing you forever, and that you are okay with, you're okay with those things slowly killing you, but then they find them and get rid of them, and then other things replace the things you were fine with, and you are not fine, not fine at all with the new things, and you die, slowly, in utter misery, just the way you would have before, only before you were pretty okay with the manner of it, but now you're not." (130) I find this passage to be the most striking, and the one that I relate to the most. Lately, I find myself thinking a lot about my own mortality and this passage, gushing with various thoughts and feelings, reflects exactly how I felt about a personal experience that changed everything for me. It's not an eloquent passage, but it speaks volumes to those who find themselves being okay with this death thing as it's the natural order of things, but once they've found the thing that's killing you, you're no longer okay with death being natural anymore. Suddenly life becomes uncertain. This book is marketed towards people who enjoyed Salinger's very unreliable narrator, Holden Caulfield, who happens to be one of my favourite literary characters. And I agree. Lucia Stanton of How to Set a Fire and Why holds a place in my heart. Perhaps these two narrators are unreliable but at the same time they're very honest. This novel is as introspective as The Catcher in the Rye. It explores if adults can be trusted, and the wariness of young persons who have to grow up too fast due to situations out of their control. Ultimately, people let you down. Just don't let yourself down.

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