Title: Burro Hills
Author: Julia Lynn Rubin
Publisher: Diversion Books
Length: 240 Pages
Category: YA/Teen Fiction, Coming of Age
At a Glance: Check this one out, guys. I was sucked in from the first page. Definitely recommend this worthy debut.
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: Jack Burns is a resident—though oftentimes he feels like an inmate—of the tiny, California desert town of Burro Hills. Growing up surrounded by the broken dreams of his parents, Jack wonders if he will ever just get out. Get out of dealing drugs. Get out of poverty. Get away from the suffocating masculinity in high school boys. And get out of his own head. When he’s not running with his crew and trying to stay under the radar, he is in his favorite spot with his best friend, Jess, fantasizing about escape.
Until Connor Orellana shows up. The new boy captivates everyone in school, including Jack, who is magnetized by Connor’s lack of self-consciousness and inhibition. As their connection deepens, Connor challenges him to see that liberation comes from accepting and trusting his nature, while Jack helps ground Connor and the dark energy that drives his free spirit. But their relationship will set into motion a series of events that have lasting consequences, jeopardizing Jack’s budding romance with Connor and the life he’s tried so hard to salvage in Burro Hills.
Review: Burro Hills, Julia Lynn Rubin’s fantastic debut, is raw, emotional, gripping, and angsty, yet also beautiful and romantic. The small California town of Burro Hills is a place where, seemingly, dreams go to die. Yet, Jack Burns is still somewhat of a dreamer, forever imagining a different, better life for himself and his best friend, Jess. Jack is sensitive and kind, a gentle soul who seems, in many ways, not cut out for the harsh realities of the world he lives in. A world filled with poverty and drugs; a world where his dad is a drunk and his mom is unreliable and inconsistent; a world where he’s wrapped up in his friend’s family drug dealing business, and he basically feels devoid of hope. But, his life changes drastically when Connor Orellana walks into it.
Connor shows up at school amidst rumors of fighting, drug use, and promiscuity; he’s all anyone can talk about. And Jack is immediately taken with him. I loved Jack’s initial reactions to Connor, and how we see him slowly start to realize what those reactions and thoughts mean.
Only a few months had gone by, and already it seemed like his name was on everyone’s lips, or at least, the people that ran in my circle. Connor Orellana, his imagined deeds ingrained into Burro Hills High School lore. The rest of them either whispered about him in the hallway or blew him off as another loser, a junkie or a deadbeat’s son like the rest of us. I was hopelessly intrigued.
I was also hopelessly intrigued with Connor. Rubin wrote him with the perfect balance of mystery and realness. He felt down-to-earth yet was also super impulsive and sort of a loose cannon. He kept me on my toes. And I loved how much he obviously adored Jack. Connor is unapologetic about who he is. He couldn’t give two shits about what anyone thinks of him, and as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he wishes Jack could be as fearless. But, Jack is scared. He’s scared to confront his friends and family about his quickly growing feelings for Connor.
I mentioned that the story was raw and angsty, and it truly is. With a definite Outsiders vibe, the book has this tinge of desperation permeating the pages. Jack’s relationship with his friend Toby is constantly on the verge of imploding, his home life is certainly far from ideal—yet he yearns for it to be the home he dreams of—and the fallout with his friend Jess is heart wrenching. Jack deals with his problems with alcohol and drugs, as do most of the characters in the story. This bit really stuck with me:
“Well, look who’s finally up,” Dad said. He spun in his chair to face me, and we locked eyes for a moment. Father and Son, two hungover, useless bastards. If someone had wanted to paint a portrait of our family lineage, this would’ve been a good place to start.
One thing in the book that definitely might have more sensitive readers clutching their pearls is the frequent and pervasive drug use. There is LOTS of drug use. But, unfortunately drugs are an even bigger part of reality for kids in high school now than they were when I was a kid, and I knew kids in high school who did a lot of drugs. Rubin pulls no punches in her storytelling, making for a very vivid picture of the world these teens inhabit.
As angsty as this story was, though, as I said earlier there were many beautiful moments, and the romance between Connor and Jack was incredibly sweet. I also loooved Jess, and her and Jack’s friendship. And, there were a few scenes between Jack and each of his parents, individually, that were so heartfelt and genuine.
Check this one out, guys. I was sucked in from the first page. And, that cover, amirite?!? Gorgeous. Definitely recommend this worthy debut.
You can buy Burro Hills here:
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