Lucia, the protagonist of Jesse Ball’s How to Set a Fire and Why, is such a lovely, complicated, aggravating, but ultimately endearing misfit of a teenager. She’s grieving, she’s lonely, she’s scared, she’s way more adult than she should be – but she’s still a kid at heart. Ball does an admirable job with the complications of teenage years while still telling a compelling story.
Our fearless (not really) heroine (hardly) has had a lot to deal with in her life. Her father is dead, her mom has serious mental health issues that have landed her in a long-term care facility, and she’s living in a garage with her Great Aunt. Lucia aches for acceptance and love, as do most teenagers. Her obsession with fire puts her in good company and before we know it, she’s making new friends, a possible love interest, and some really poor decisions.
This book was unsurprisingly compared (mostly favorably) to The Catcher in the Rye, which I get, because, you know – first-person cynical teenager and all. But this book was a lot less annoying to me. I like Catcher pretty all right, but Holden is a privileged kid who’s got a lot of time on his hands. Lucia’s character may be similar in other ways, but this is not a girl who’s been handed everything in life. This is not a girl with the luxury to walk around lamenting phonies. She’s seen real heartbreak and pain and she’s handling her grief in the best way she knows how. This was a lovely, funny, compelling story. I already miss Lucia’s sharp wit and false bravado.