Burnout

By ADRIENNE MARIA VRETTOS

The morning after Halloween, sixteen-year-old Nan wakes up barefoot on the L train, wearing a torn pink plastic dress, with hacked-off hair, skeleton make-up that proves virtually impossible to remove, and the words “Help Me” scrawled in Sharpie across her chest. “This time her nightmare is real,” reads the tag line on the cover.

But while Burnout delivers the drama its exterior promises, the real surprise is just how artfully it portrays a certain kind of New York City teenage life: Saturdays at the Union Square farmer’s market, midnight screenings of The Goonies at the Sunshine cinema, a secret hide-out in a 19th century carriage house, Nan’s family’s space as the sole remaining artists in a converted SoHo loft that has long since gone condo. That and, say, puking in the holy water at Saint Patrick’s cathedral in front of a busload of Japanese tourists. It’s that kind of bad behavior that leads to Nan spending six months in rehab, though, as her best friend and prime instigator, Seemy, points out, Nan was more follower than leader in the rebellious teen role.

Nan’s family is especially finely drawn. “Our house is full of thinking,” Nan says. Her artist mother encourages her to find strength in her large frame (“mom says bodies like ours are made for football and slaying dragons”), describes her own art as “either a big fat mess or a mixed-media installation about mall culture and female genital mutilation,” and snipes at the rich people who look at “all of the interesting artist people” as some sort of paid entertainment. While the plot speeds along, the background texture makes the reader actually care how it all shakes out.