Friday, March 1, 2013

(you) set me on fire by Mariko Tamaki

Mariko Tamaki and her cousin Jillian Tamaki are the creative duo behind one of my favourite graphic novels, Skim. Mariko's new text-only novel, (you) set me on fire, also features a shy lesbian protagonist. Burn-scarred Allison Lee is socially awkward but her voice is wonderful on the page.

"I'm into girls, but I have some pretty strong reservations on my heart's part. [...] It's like, why, given my MANY experiences with the claws and fangs of girls, would I decide to put myself on the path of pursuing them for the rest of my life? It's shocking to me that I could fall in love with a girl, let alone more than one girl. Although, you know, let's not exclude the possibility that some boy will come along and sweep me off my feet. Boys, it seems, are just so cool and everyone wants one. Why not me?"

Allison is ready to reinvent herself when she starts her freshman year at college. Unfortunately, she falls for the wrong person. VERY wrong. Shar tells her, "I'm not into girls, but I mess around with them sometimes." And things do get messy. Everyone but Allison can see that Shar is bad news. Unfortunately, self-destruction seems to be Allison's modus operandi. She's the kind of girl who accidently sets herself on fire. Will she be like a phoenix, and emerge reborn?

With wry humour, Tamaki describes Allison's immersion in college life: a whole lot of drinking, vomiting, loitering and, when she can't think of anything else to do... going to classes. The tone is light, but the poisonous friendship at its core gives this book satisfying substance. Brava!

(you) set me on fire could possibly fit the 'new adult' genre category. It's suitable for Grade 10 and up.

Readalikes: Rose of No Man's Land (Michelle Tea); Far from Xanadu [alternately titled Pretend You Love Me] (Julie Anne Peters); The Cheese Monkeys (Chip Kidd); and Beautiful Malice (Rebecca James).

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