The class book review: The Burning

Teacher and pupils were gripped by this novel, from Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates, which mingles gritty realism with supernatural fantasy

Natalia Marshall

the burning

The Burning

Author: Laura Bates
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK
Details: £7.99, 352 pages
ISBN: 978-1471170201

Teacher review

When Anna moves from London to a bleak cottage in St Monans, Scotland, she is forced to leave behind everything that is familiar. The reasons for this sudden move in the middle of Year 11, and for the absence of her dad, are not revealed initially, creating a sense of mystery and foreboding right from the first page. 

At her new school, Anna tries to keep a low profile, until someone starts asking questions about her past – and then the rumours begin. These quickly escalate into full-blown persecution, much of it via social media, and Anna finds herself experiencing unbearable distress as a result.

In the meantime, as part of a research project, Anna digs into the history of Maggie, a local girl convicted for witchcraft 400 years previously. As both girls’ stories start to unravel, it becomes clear that attitudes towards young women have not moved on much over the last four centuries. 

Despite working in a school, I found the cruelty and language used by the teenage characters almost incredible, although my student reviewers assured me it comes as standard.

Laura Bates – founder of the Everyday Sexism project and author of Everyday Sexism and Girl Up – also uses subtle supernatural touches to add to the darkness throughout the novel. 

It is a gripping, if unpalatable, story, a huge hit with the students. We all very much enjoyed the way that Maggie’s experiences are slowly revealed to mirror Anna’s. I would recommend this book to older readers, owing to its mature themes, explicit language and sexual material.

Natalia Marshall is learning resource centre manager at The Compton School, in North London

Pupil reviews

‘I only stopped reading to write this review’
When I was first given this book, I was pretty sceptical. The whole “bringing light to issues teenage girls face” theme is fairly common nowadays and, in my opinion, not always that great. 

Obviously, I’m not saying that bringing these topics into conversation isn’t good, just that frequently they cover common, if not very talked about, knowledge without any deep understanding of the generation they aim to write about and teens in general. Long story short: in those books it’s very hard to relate at all to the character. 

But Bates has done a brilliant job in creating backgrounds for most (if not all) of the main characters who are involved in Anna’s story, while keeping Anna’s own past slightly secretive.

I found it fascinating listening to Bates talk about everyday sexism on the radio while I was reading this book (great timing), though I didn’t expect the book to engross me so deeply that I only stopped reading it to write this review.

Bates, while not perfect, has done a very good job in writing a good modern-day story about the pervasiveness of sexism and misogyny in our society and especially in schools, and the titbits of fantasy throughout kept the story engaging and new. The added fantasy element was surprising and very well done: it utterly thrilled me. And the ending was spectacular! 

I would most definitely recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t already read it, no matter their age or sex.
Maia, Year 11

‘Right now, a girl might be going through what Anna did’
I loved this book! It’s the first book that I read by Laura Bates but certainly will not be the last. I liked how the author wrote and structured this story, and also the way that she mentions serious topics like cyberbullying, sexual assault, teen pregnancy, abortion and body shaming, because I think that more people should be aware that this still happens and that right now a girl might be going through what Anna did. 

Something that I didn’t like is that it took me so long to understand how the story of Maggie was important and related to Anna’s story. But now I do, and I think it’s completely true that people should start to think that not every rumour is true, and that even if it is true that person doesn’t have the right to point fingers at you even if they know the whole story because someone’s life is none of their business. 
Mariana, Year 12

‘Relatable characters and real-life problems’
The Burning deals with the fact that not enough is being done to stop cyberbullying, and that many girls could end up like Anna. 

This is a great book with relatable characters and real-life problems that that could definitely happen. It evokes sympathy, empathy and anger from the reader. On the cover, Holly Bourne describes it as a book teen girls need to read, and I agree. 

The book deals with the common abuse girls face in their teen years, such as slut-shaming, cyberbullying and gender-stereotyping. I like the way the book has a subplot, comparing the situation of two women who lived 400 years apart who both experience a witch hunt and makes you think that women are still being severely judged, even though people claim that times have changed.
Molly, Year 11

‘Pins down how horribly we treat others’
I loved this book so much! It’s a modern story with a historical twist, where the two girls’ stories set in different centuries run alongside each other. I enjoyed the comparison of Anna to the witch hunt 400 years ago, as it made the story feel more real and balanced. 

The author didn’t shy away from harsh issues or sugar-coat what it would actually be like in real life. I really liked the honest portrait of young people and how they act and treat each other in a bad situation, and the horrible language often used. However, it did not affect me personally as a reader, as you often hear these derogatory terms in school. 

The Burning pins down how horribly we treat others around us and how this must change.
Natalie, Year 10

‘Real and explicit language’
I like the way the author uses the descriptions of witches and links them to modern-day girls. The book talks about the pressures young girls undergo – for example, boys sending nude photos around and the way girls are pressured to be just sexy enough, but not too much. 

The author uses real and explicit language to emphasise what bullying in this era is actually like. I’m used to hearing language like this and have become desensitized to it because it is so common. I liked the way there was no filter as it feels more like a real-life setting. 

I was very intrigued with the way Laura Bates uses some elements of fantasy (for instance the old necklace Anna discovers), while still keeping it like a real-life story somebody would actually go through. I don’t want to give anything away, but the great ending makes the book feel very complete.
Timera, Year 11


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Natalia Marshall

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