The Burn Journals

( 178 )

Overview

I don’t want to get out of bed.I’m so stupid.I did so many things wrong.I don’t know what to do.I’m going to be in so much trouble.What am I going to do?I’m completely screwed.In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from school, doused his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on, and lit a match. He suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he’d done, undertaking the ...
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Overview

I don’t want to get out of bed.I’m so stupid.I did so many things wrong.I don’t know what to do.I’m going to be in so much trouble.What am I going to do?I’m completely screwed.In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from school, doused his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on, and lit a match. He suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he’d done, undertaking the complicated journey from near-death back to high school, and from suicide back to the emotional mainstream of life.In the tradition of Running with Scissors and Girl, Interrupted, The Burn Journals is a truly remarkable book about teenage despair and recovery.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
After a bad day at school, eighth grader Brent Runyon comes home, plays a little basketball with his brother, then goes inside, soaks his bathrobe in gasoline, and set himself on fire. Thus begins the real-life odyssey of a 14-year-old boy struggling first to survive and then to retrieve a place in the universe. Runyon's first-person account of his close brush with death and his painful rehabilitation is reminiscent of Girl, Interrupted and Running with Scissors.
From the Publisher
“[The Burn Journals] describes a particular kind of youthful male desolation better than it has ever been described before, by anyone.”  -Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon

“A fascinating account of the mending of a body and mind, told with the simple and honest sensibility of someone too young to have endured so much.” —Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

"Runyon has, perhaps, written the defining book of a new genre, one that gazes...unflinchingly at boys on the emotional edge ." -Booklist (starred review)

"A taut, chilling account of the author's attempt to commit suicide...a must-read for teenagers struggling with self-doubt."-The Denver Post

“An excruciating, brilliant book...WOW.” —A.M. Homes, author of Things You Should Know

Publishers Weekly
Engrossing from first page to last, this book based on Runyon's own adolescent experiences draws readers into the world of an eighth-grader whose life is irrevocably changed the day he deliberately sets himself on fire. Brent, after narrowly escaping death, wakes up in a hospital with 85% of his body severely burned and begins a slow, arduous path to recovery. Rather than analyzing reasons the patient wanted to kill himself, the first-person narrative remains focused on the immediate challenge of survival, incorporating meticulous details of Brent's day-to-day ordeals in the hospital and later in a rehabilitation center. Time, at first, is measured by Brent's fluctuating levels of discomfort and comfort, ranging from the excruciating pain of having bandages removed to the sheer bliss of tasting ice cream for the first time in several weeks. And his repentant apologies to his parents and to Craig, his brother, who discovers Brent immediately after the incident, are wrenching in their honesty ("I hope Craig can love me again"). When his wounds begin to heal, Brent's thoughts turn from the present to the future as he nervously makes plans to return home and re-enter society. Despite its dark subject matter, this powerful chronicle of Brent's journey to heal expresses hope, celebrates life and provides an opportunity to slip inside the skin of a survivor with a unique perspective. Ages 14-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
VOYA
Runyon tells the shocking true story of his fourteenth year. He was depressed, had attempted and failed to commit suicide several times, and ultimately set himself on fire. Runyon begins his story just before that tragic event, giving the readers some background into his mental state but never revealing that he could go so far to hurt himself. The author tells of the afternoon when he went into the bathroom, soaked his bathrobe with gasoline, and lit a match. He continues the story from his walk out of the bathroom, to the horrified face of his brother who called 911, to his trip to the hospital and the subsequent surgeries, procedures, pain, and therapy over the next year. Runyon burned 85 percent of his body and nearly died, and readers are given all the grisly details of the boy's physical and emotional recovery in a very matter-of-fact fashion. There are high points, however. Runyon received phone calls, autographs, and visits from celebrities such as Magic Johnson, Jay Leno, and Dennis Miller. He developed a special relationship with the nurses and hospital staff and grew closer to his parents, and eventually, his brother. This book is an unbelievable story of survival, even more powerful than Peeling the Onion by Wendy Orr (Holiday House, 1997/VOYA October 1997) and Out of the Fire by Deborah Froese (Sumach Press, 2002/VOYA October 2002) for the simple fact that it really happened and because it was something that Runyon brought upon himself. His is a cautionary tale to beat all cautionary tales. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P J S (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Knopf, 384p., Ages12 to 18.
—Kimberly L. Paone
KLIATT - Patricia Moore
Not for the faint of heart, The Burn Journals chronicle the life of 14-year-old Brent Runyon from the day he stood in the shower, poured gasoline over his bathrobe and set himself on fire. Now in his late 20s, Runyon wrote this book as therapy to set down what he remembered of the year it took for him to recover enough to return to school. He writes of what he saw as his failure in school, his failure within his family, and his determination to kill himself. As soon as the flames encircled him, however, he turned on the shower to douse them and cried for help. The Journals tell of his painful hospitalization, his gradual recovery and realization of the harm he had done himself, and his constant apologies to his distraught parents for his actions—which they insisted on calling his "accident." Gradually he became more mobile, better able to interact with his family, friends and the hospital staff, although never with the string of psychologists and psychiatrists who tried to get him to analyze his self-destructive motives. At the end of a year, Brent was ready to return to his high school, and the reader holds his breath.
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-One February day in 1991, Runyon came home from eighth grade, had a snack, soaked his full-length bathrobe in gasoline, and set himself on fire. He intended to kill himself. Everything shortly after is written in short bursts as the author takes readers in and out of his various states of consciousness: the helicopter ride; the parade of nurses, doctors, therapists, and orderlies at Children's Hospital in Washington, DC, and the regimented details of his care divided among them; and the pain of the burns on 85 percent of his body. The entries lengthen and the story builds like a novel as the author takes readers along as co-patients. The dialogue between Runyon and his nurses, parents, and especially his hapless psychotherapists is natural and believable, and his inner dialogue is flip, often funny, and sometimes raw. The details of the surgery, therapy, and painstaking care that go into healing burns are fascinating, and are likely to grip teens with a taste for gore or melodrama. Runyon's brave willingness to relive this horrifying year in unflinching detail is perhaps even more fascinating, as is the slowly unfolding mystery of the sadness that made a smart, popular, funny, loving boy try to take his own life. Depression, regret, and rebirth are the themes that tie the narrative together, and the subtle tension among the three are beautifully related, offering no neat resolution. The authentically adolescent voice of the journals will engage even those reluctant to read such a dark story.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This true story of a 14-year-old boy who tried to commit suicide by setting himself on fire certainly has the power to grab the attention of many young readers, despite its length. Formerly an excellent student, Brent suddenly begins to fail in school and pulls one too many pranks. Sure he'll be caught and expelled for impulsively setting a fire in a locker and unable to admit his guilt, he decides that it's best to die. The bulk of the narrative follows Brent through his treatment and recovery, his pain, pleasures, and frustrations, his family's love, and his relations with his friends. Rarely stated but always lurking below the surface is the question of why Brent set himself on fire, because he doesn't know himself. It's a fascinating journey through a teenager's mind, only lacking information about what happened to Brent after he returned to school. (Nonfiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400096428
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/11/2005
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 79,091
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Brent Runyon is a regular contributor to public radio’s This American Life, where portions of this story first appeared. The author lives on Cape Cod, MA.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

When seventh period is finally over, I run to my locker and put all my books inside. I won’t need them anymore. I grab my lock-picking set and a spare Ace of Spades that I have lying around.
At the end of the hallway, I can see Stephen talking to Megan, the girl we both have a crush on. I walk up to them and say hi. She smiles at me and I try to smile back. He looks a little suspicious.
I don’t really want to say anything, I don’t want to tell them what I’m going to do. I hand him the Ace of Spades and say, “Good-bye,” and I walk away. I hope they’ll be happy together.
I see my friend Jake at his locker and give him the lock-picking set. “Use them wisely,” I say, and head toward the bus.
Laura walks with me down D hall. She says, “Hey, I heard you set that fire in gym class.”
“Yeah.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to set myself on fire.” She stops at her locker, and I keep walking.

On the bus ride home, I sit by myself. I lean my head against the cold glass window and try not to think about all the stupid things I’ve done, all the bad things I’ve done, and all the pain I’ve caused everyone.

My brother is playing basketball outside the house when I get home. He’s shooting free throws.
I rebound the ball for him and throw it back. I don’t want to take any shots. I tell him the whole story, about what I did and what they’re going to do to me. I don’t tell him what I’m going to do to myself.
When I’m done talking, he says, “That sucks,” and I go inside the house. I don’t have to write a note anymore. Craig knows everything.
I walk out to the shed to get the gas can. I bring it inside to the bathroom at the top of the stairs because that’s the room with the most locks. I go back downstairs and get the matches from the kitchen.

I take off all my clothes and put on the pair of red boxers with glow-in-the-dark lips that my mom bought for me at the mall last weekend. I bring my bathrobe into the shower and I pour the gasoline all over it. The gas can is only about a quarter full, but it seems like enough.
I step into the bathtub and I put the bathrobe over my shoulders. It’s wet and heavy, but there’s something kind of comforting about the smell, like going on a long car trip. I hold the box of matches out in front of me in my left hand.
I take out a strike-anywhere match and hold it against the box.
Should I do it?
Yes. Do it.
I strike the match, but it doesn’t light. Try again.
I light the match. Nothing happens. I bring it closer to my wrist and then it goes up, all over me, eating through me everywhere. I can’t breathe. I’m screaming, “Craig! Craig!”
I fall down. I’m going to die. I’m going to find out what death is like. I’m going to know. But nothing’s happening.
This hurts too much. I need to stop it. I need to get up. I stand. I don’t know how I stand, but I do, and I turn on the shower. I’m breathing water and smoke. I unlock the door and open it. My hand is all black. I walk out. There’s Craig with Rusty, our dog, next to him. They have the same expression on their faces.
Craig yells something and runs downstairs. I think he’s calling 911. I’m following him. He hands me the phone and runs off. There’s a woman on the phone asking me questions. I try to tell her what’s happened, but my voice sounds choked and brittle. There’s something wrong with my voice.
The woman on the phone says the fire trucks and ambulances are on their way. Somehow she knows my address. Craig is gone now, gone to get Mom, and Rusty is hiding somewhere. Smoke is coming from the bathroom upstairs and I can see that the whole room has turned black. I look down and see my flesh is charred and flaking and the glow-in-the-dark boxer shorts are burnt into my skin.
The woman on the phone says everything is going to be all right, and I believe her. She has a nice voice. She keeps asking me if I’m still on fire and I say, “I don’t think so.”
I’m walking around the kitchen, waiting for the ambulance to come. I can see my reflection in the microwave. Where’s my hair? Where did my hair go? Is that my face?
We used to put marshmallows in the microwave. We used to watch them get bigger and bigger and then shrink down.
“Oh God, just tell them to get here, just tell them to get here, okay?”
She says, “It’s okay. They’re coming. They’re almost there.”
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, that’s okay.”
I can hear the sirens in the distance now.
I say, “I want to lie down. I’m going to lie down.” It hurts to talk. I think there’s something wrong in my throat.
“You can’t lie down.”
“But I have to.”
“Okay, you can lie down.”
The men are here. The firemen are here. They’re putting me on a plastic sheet. They say I’m going to be okay. One of them puts something over my face. That feels good. That feels so good. The cold air feels so good going into my lungs.
What are they talking about? What are they saying? They’re giving me a shot. They say it’s going to make the pain go away. Make the pain go away.
I’m looking at the faces of all the men who are gathered around me. Their eyes are so blue and so clear.
I turn my head and see Craig in the front hall. He’s yelling and punching the walls. He’s angry.
And my mom is here, and she’s smiling and saying she loves me, and her eyes, which are green like my eyes, are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

The Burn Journals describes a particular kind of youthful male desolation better than it has ever been described before, by anyone.” –Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading and discussion of Brent Runyon’s The Burn Journals, the provocative, raw, and unsparing account of Runyon’s long journey back to teenage life after a botched suicide attempt leaves him physically and emotionally shattered.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 178 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(105)

4 Star

(36)

3 Star

(18)

2 Star

(11)

1 Star

(8)

Your Rating:

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 179 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful book, must read!

    The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon was an incredible book. All 325 pages of the book were so important, they were bits of his life. This book is unique, I feel like it gives people an inside to what people with depression go through and how they deal with it. I really enjoyed that the author told it as it is, he didn't try and cover it with frosting. He told the true story and that takes a lot of courage. I don't think the author did anything to stray from the subject. I liked this book a lot, it opened up my eyes to I guess something that most people judge on, and I think it made me understand and be more open minded. I would say this book is appropriate for reading to people who are mature, it's not a light matter and you have to be ready for that. Parts of the book get a bit gruesome, so be prepared for that, but overall it's great!

    14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2011

    great book

    if anyone is struggling with their self confidence just reading this book made me realize how everyhing we live for is more than meets the eye. this great book covered every aspect and was a true eyeopener

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2012

    Wow

    This book was on my nook under the heading "teen "angst". I had not seen that particular selection before and decided to check out tge selectiohs. I'm glad i did.
    This book is written in the first person and follows a teenage boy who tries to kill himself with fire. What a frightening thought! I can't imagine the pain of the fire and the pain of reliving it in the words written on these pages.
    As a mom, it scares me to think that such a thing is possible. That such a talented child would think that death was the only option.
    It was heartbreaking to feel the pain in Brent's words; to imagine the pain his parents suffered watching him go through recovery.
    My only reason for not giving this book 5 stars is because of the frequent f-bombs. This book was both easy to read and hard to read at the same time. Sad, scary.....impossible to put down.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 29, 2012

    This is an incredible book! You have to read it!!!!!

    The Burn Journals
    By Brent Runyon

    My Book Rating: B-

    When Brent Runyon, a fourteen year old boy, sets himself on fire for a reason he cannot even remember, his whole life is changed forever. He must go through many different kinds of hospitals in order to attempt to get his life back. Although Brent knows he will never be the same mentally, he must believe that he can restore himself physically. Through Brent's long and painful journey, he finally realizes that he is and had always been loved and needed by his family and friends.

    In The Burn Journal, Brent Runyon is able to write an incredibly true story about the most painful point in his life. He wrote about his suicide attempt and how he overcame it. Brent's purpose for writing this book is to help show and explain how horrible and pointless suicide is. He wants his readers to know and understand that the people in their life love and care for them.

    The author, Brent Runyon, has a very important goal for this book and himself. He hoped that by writing this book he could explain, even if only to himself, how and why his depression and recovery worked the way they did. He wanted to finally put it all at rest and to never have to worry and stress about it again.

    The Burn Journals is extremely different compared to others on the subject. The Burn Journals is much more detailed than many other books on the same topic. Many times books about suicide do not go into too much detail because they do not want to scare their audience. The Burn Journals is different because it is so well revealed and the story is so well written that the reader feels as if they were actually witnessing the story live. The Burn Journals allows for it's audience to feel the pain Brent had to go through and understand the reasoning behind it.

    I rated this book a B- because although it teaches a major lesson, it is also a little strange at certain parts. For example, Brent uses a lot of foul language in his vocabulary. Usually I can take a little curse words in the books I read, but The Burn Journals just has way too many. Other than that, the book is a very interesting read. I definitely enjoyed reading The Burn Journals.

    The Burn Journals is an incredible book that everyone should read. It teaches the reader so much, which should always be an author's goal. When the reader puts down the book, they will walk away full of useful knowledge. I would definitely recommend this book to someone else because of the immense power and strength that radiates off the book. The Burn Journals is an extremely powerful novel that teaches some of the most important things about life.

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2010

    LOVE!!

    The Burn Journals is an amazing read. Brent takes you through every emotion from extreme sadness and depression, and the desire to just be loved. The Burn Journals is heart wrenching,true,funny,and amazingly written!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2012

    Agree

    I agree with u person under me. Im a seventh grader and i approve this message lol ^.^

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2005

    A Must-Read!

    I love this book! The Burn Journals is a very moving story about Brent, a fourteen year-old who tries to commit suicide by setting himself on fire. The book reveals what he was feeling before, during and after the incident. It also describes his recovery for the following year. Some of the details make me cringe, but they are important to the story because they help me understand what Brent had to endure. This story is fascinating because it is written from Brent¿s point of view. His comments make you realize that it could happen to almost anybody. Before the fire, nobody suspected that Brent was unhappy. He seemed like a completely normal teenager. This is why teachers and parents need to read this book: You can never know for sure how a person is feeling. Teenagers will love this book because it is a moving story about someone just like them.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 6, 2010

    Every teenager should read this book!!!

    This book is a firsthand look into a teenage boy's head. There is a lot of thought and emotion put into this book, such as going through all the hospitals and theripists and puberty and the feeling of being left behind because of a bad "mistake". I would read this book again any day, and reccomend it to tons of people!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 21, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    This really made me think

    I absolutely adore this book. I only have four top favorite books of all time, and this is one of them. It made me cry at some times, and I feel such a connection with the author. It amazes me how this is a true story, and Brent lived through all of that. This book made me think, because of all the emotion Brent poured into it, which is why I cried sometimes. I loved the writing style too. Deffinetly something to read. But it's NOT for younger readers. It's one of the most perverted, suicidal, and bad-word filled books I've ever read. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't read it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2008

    This book will make your top 5 list.

    An absolute must-read that is gripping from page 1 to page 374. This book is packed with emotions and angst that apply to not only teens and adolescents but adults as well. The lessons Brent learns in the hospital and out of the hospital are applicable to many aspects of life. The Burn Journals is a true representation of what it's like to be depressed, and what it's like to realize how you've hurt other people. I highly recommend this book. And to the teacher who said the book is too mature for junior high-ers...this all happened to Brent Runyon as a junior high school student, so it's obviously not too mature.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2008

    Amazing

    I bought this not expecting much, but there was a difference in this book that seperated it from others- I realized that is was because this book is totally HONEST. I could relate to the emotions and I really felt like I was inside Runyon's head. This was a unique topic and I enjoyed it more than I have with many books- and I read a TON. I wouldn't pass this up.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2014

    How can I?

    I have considered suicide so many times. I have scars from cutting myself. Cutting myself just somehow made me feel better about myself. Soon I realized I was bisexual. I knew my parents could never accept me if I told them. They don't understand the way I feel. I can't help if I think girls are cute. I just don't know what to do. I'm considering overdose.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2014

    Not necarry

    Y is peopl tking bout bein bisexual on here i dnt really get it ik that this book is about people commiting sucide on here but i dnt think that it us nesscary to talk aout your problens on here no offense this isnt doctor phil

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    OMG

    PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME PEANUT BUTTER JEALY PEANUT BUTTER JELLY AND A BASEBALL BAT NOW WHARE UAT NOW WHERE UAT PEANUT BUTTER JELLEY PEANUT BUTTER JEALEY

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2013

    To emily

    I understand love. I cut, purge, starve, purge, and i've tried killing myself 24 times this year. I'm emo. I'm also bisexual

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2013

    Awesomeness

    This is a book i would reccomend for any teen

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2013

    The burn journals

    The burn journals is a really sad book because he did something wrong with a match and he punished himeself well everyone deserves to live

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2013

    Have you ever considered committing suicide before. The book The

    Have you ever considered committing suicide before. The book The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon is about him trying to kill himself by burning himself. One day at school he lit a pack of matches on fire in the locker room, and started a shirt on fire. Then a teacher found out, and called Brent's parents and his life would be over. So instead of his parents hurting him, he wanted to hurt himself. Brent went home from school that day, drenched his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on and lit a match, but it hurt him so much he turned on the shower because he was in the bathtub. When he woke up he was laying in a hospital bed with third-degree burns over 85 percent of his body. He spent every day recovering in rehab facilities and hospitals for seven months. Everyday he’d get up, and lay there all day. Then once removed from the hospital he goes back home to his normal life. The theme of this book is expressed through the tone.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2013

    Imagine of being so guilty of something, you light yourself on f

    Imagine of being so guilty of something, you light yourself on fire. The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon is sad and funny. This is a true story about a boy who has tried to kill himself by just the flick of a match. The main characters name is Brent and he is also the author of the book. The book is about Brent recovering in the hospital and all of the new friends he made. He is falling in love with one of the nurses that take care of him. This author has a very unique way of writing. If you are going through a rough time don’t take it out on yourself, tell someone. I enjoyed this book because it was kind of a mystery about if he is going to live after what happened and how will he recover. I would recommend this book for teenage girls/boys because I think they would enjoy the suspense.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2013

    He wakes up and sees that he is covered in burns, some of his sk

    He wakes up and sees that he is covered in burns, some of his skin is even burned off. Having to deal with the burns, the pain, serious surgery... all because he didn’t want to be here anymore. Brent Runyon went into his bathroom, put on a bathrobe and pour gasoline all over his body and lit himself on fire. Runyon realizes the pain he caused himself and his family and he thinks “Why would I even think of doing this to myself?” I enjoyed this book because it goes into great detail about his experience and really shows that you need to think before you do something so irrational. Any type or gender in their teen-aged years would enjoy this book because a lot could relate to the authors feelings. 

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