Morning— well, late morning— well, let’s just call it “noon”— arrives, and Atlanta awakens in a dreary, bleary-eyed sweat. Her spirits lift a little— not a full, bounding leap, but like a balloon whose helium hasn’t gone all the way out— when she realizes that this is the first day of summer vacation.
Sleep is evasive, ducking and feinting, slippery like a pig slathered in its own grease. The day was hot, but somehow the night seems hotter . The air thick and stuffy like she’s a piece of French toast puffing up and sweating on the griddle . Summer’s not even here yet, but the season has sent an early preview.No matter what you think of Ms. Burns and her (mis?)adventures, getting lines like that is half the fun. This is my second book by Wendig and the one thing I can say for certain is that this man has a way with prose that really, really like.
Thankfully, this time, I like his protagonist and the stories that she's finding herself in.
Atlanta's in a new-ish school in a new-ish town, and is hating it. She's already got herself a (deserved) reputation for reckless violence, which comes in handy when she comes across some bullies attacking a Hispanic kid. She disrupts things for them, earning herself a couple of new enemies and a friend she doesn't want. Before she knows it, Atlanta's got a new reputation -- as someone who bullies the bullies, who can get your revenge for you.
Atlanta's a mess -- dealing with PTSD (or something akin to it), her relationship with her mother's in shambles, isn't good with people -- especially those in authority, mixes up non-prescribed pharmecuticals and caffeine in a way that can't lead to long-term phscial or mental health. Probably not in the short-term, either, come to think of it. She makes mistakes -- big ones, potentially lethal ones. She may be a contemporary Sally Kimball -- but she's nowhere near as perfect as Sally (or her partner). It wouldn't have shocked me if she was killed in all of her nosing around. (it would've fit the tone of the book, too).
Some of the characters here are very well drawn, some aren't. The English teacher who takes an interest in her is like every English teacher you've read/seen on TV who takes an interest in a troubled kid. Her nerdy friends, or her drug/gun dealer, on the other hand, are sharply and fully drawn. Ditto for the bullies, criminals and low-lifes she comes into contact with. I'm torn about Atlanta's mother, I'm not sure what to think of her as a character, really. She's largely extraneous to the plot, but when she's around, it counts.
The violence seems real. It's messy, sloppy, not a series of precision moves/shots/etc. like you'd get from...well, about everyone else. It hurts. It takes people down and takes time to recover. Nowhere near as entertaining (at least not in the same way) as Reacher talking about how much force is required to break bone X, or Vinnie Morris making the impossible shot, or Elvis Cole delivering a precision kick to the face. Instead, what we get is visceral, bloody, and wrong. Sort of what violence is supposed to be.
This is one of those books where you quickly learn to stop thinking, "it's not going to get worse than this." It does, and soon. And then it does it again. Which isn't to say that there aren't victories -- some are minor, some are Pyrrhic, but they're there. There's even a little joy. The ending is satisfying, while leaving the door open for more. Atlanta has more in common with Frank Castle than Flavia de Luce, more Lisbeth Salander than Veronica Mars, more Beatrix Kiddo than Kinsey Milhone, but there's a little of all of them in her. I look forward to more from her.