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Flash Burnout
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Flash Burnout

4.1 23
by L. K. Madigan

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Winner of the 2010 William C. Morris Award!

Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who’s a girl. One of them loves him; the other one needs him.

When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa’s long-lost meth addicted mom. Blake’s


Winner of the 2010 William C. Morris Award!

Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who’s a girl. One of them loves him; the other one needs him.

When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa’s long-lost meth addicted mom. Blake’s participation in the ensuing drama opens up a world of trouble, both for him and for Marissa. He spends the next few months trying to reconcile the conflicting roles of Boyfriend and Friend. His experiences range from the comic (surviving his dad’s birth control talk) to the tragic (a harrowing after-hours visit to the morgue).

In a tangle of life and death, love and loyalty, Blake will emerge with a more sharply defined snapshot of himself.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"With just enough humor to diffuse the tension and the art and science of photography as a backdrop, this rich romance explores the complexities of friendship and love, and the all-too-human limitations of both. It’s a sobering, compelling, and satisfying read for teens and a promising debut for a new young-adult author."--Booklist, starred review

"An exceptional novel, Flash Burnout is thought-provoking on many levels."--School Library Journal, starred review

Children's Literature - Jennifer Waldrop
Blake is the class clown who can spin anything his way with a joke. Or at least, he could before he began to navigate the tricky waters of girls and relationships. Now that he is in a relationship with Shannon, he frequently finds himself out of his depth and wondering what he has done to anger her. His relationship with Marissa is simpler. They are friends who take a photography class together; their teacher refers to Marissa and Blake as "Pretty and Gritty" respectively because of the subjects they choose to photograph. While Marissa is focusing on flowers and beauty, Blake is taking pictures of bleak sidewalks and homeless people. When Marissa recognizes one of the homeless people as her mother, her life is thrown into a tailspin as she tries to rehabilitate her mother. Concerned, Blake finds himself lying to Shannon in order to check up on Marissa. Despite having fallen in love with Shannon, he is drawn into Marissa's world more and more as the situation with her mother makes her vulnerable and strengthens their friendship. Reviewer: Jennifer Waldrop
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—High school sophomore Blake is quick witted and keeps track of how many times he makes someone laugh each day. His new girlfriend, Shannon, is somewhat possessive, but with frequent imaginary pleas to "Houston" for help, Blake is learning to navigate the galaxy of BF/GF relationships. Complicating matters is his friendship with Marissa, a girl in photo class with whom he has become involved because he unknowingly photographed her meth-addicted mother passed out on the street. After a particularly emotional episode involving her absent parent, Blake and Marissa have consensual sex. When Shannon discovers this and the playful nude photos of Marissa on Blake's camera, she abruptly ends the relationship. "Actions have consequences" is a lesson that his parents have been teaching him all his life. Blake's parents play a significant role in their sons' lives, teaching them about safe sex, ethical issues, discipline, and helping others. These model parents are easily contrasted to Marissa's mother, yet they are very human and have their own idiosyncrasies. All of these aspects of the story are tied together by appropriate but sensitive dialogue; beautifully developed, diverse characters; an unblinking pace; and intelligent humor. An exceptional novel, Flash Burnout is thought-provoking on many levels.—Sue Lloyd, Franklin High School, Livonia, MI
Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen-year-old photographer-in-training Blake is caught between fawning over his gorgeous girlfriend Shannon and helping Marissa, his troubled photography partner, a friend who also happens to be a girl. At first, the three handle the tension with uneasy understanding, but the uncertainty builds as Blake begins to spend more time with Marissa, locking Shannon out of their secrets. Madigan also throws a lovable goofball brother, Marissa's meth-addicted mom and a morgue into the mix. Like any boy his age, Blake thinks about sex a lot. The narrative handles his hormones well, safely focusing on his character's inner yearnings and providing just enough gritty details to feel realistic. The dialogue between the characters, especially the "dude" repartee between Blake and his brother, feels genuinely alive. Overplotting is the novel's only fault, but the details are just intriguingly bizarre enough to hook teens of both sexes and keep them engrossed by the naively unsteady love triangle. Somehow, all of the loose ends get tied up into a haphazard yet entertaining read. (Fiction. YA)
Publishers Weekly
Blake's life is riddled with the small dramas that accompany a high school sophomore's existence, but he has a sense of humor and feels lucky to be in love with his girlfriend, Shannon. But that relationship, and his generally normal life, are upended after he takes a photo of a meth addict on the street and discovers that she's the mother of Marissa, one of his classmates. With her father in jail, Marissa has nowhere to turn when her mother disappears, and before he knows it, Blake becomes emotionally entrenched in her family troubles. As his relationship with Marissa intensifies, Blake struggles to manage Shannon's jealousy ("even thought I may not work at the Genius Bar, I can tell she is mad") and figure out what he really wants (he eventually does cheat on Shannon). Madigan's debut skillfully employs the metaphor of photography to illuminate Blake's subtle discoveries about human nature and himself. But it's the teenager's authentic, often humorous, narration and personality that carry the story and act as a counterpoint to the tough issues Madigan addresses. Ages 14—up. (Oct.)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.90(d)
HL570L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Cease handling the equipment immediately if it emits smoke, sparks, or noxious fumes. —Mitsu ProShot I.S. 5.3 camera guide, 2007

When I go down to breakfast, I’m greeted by photos of bullet wounds scattered all across the kitchen table. You would think my dad would at least have the courtesy not to put stuff from work on the table where we eat.

Right on cue, I hear a snore from the family room. Dad must have gotten home late and decided to sleep on the couch last night. He does that sometimes so he won’t wake Mom.

I shove the photos to one side, trying not to look at them, and pour a bowl of cereal.

Mom comes into the room yelling, "I mean it, Garrett. If I have to tell you to get up again, I’m going to tell you with a bucket of cold water. It’s almost seven fifteen!"

Her hair is still wet from her shower, and she’s running around in her underwear and a blouse. Usually she’s a Zen master of calm. She has to be, she’s a hospital chaplain, but every morning she turns into a spaz. She’s always setting down half-finished cups of coffee and throwing things into her briefcase and searching for her shoes.

"Morning, sweetie," she says, leaning over to hug me.


She glances at the photos and turns away to pour herself a cup of coffee without so much as a raised eyebrow. Just another cheery morning in the Hewson household. "Did you feed The Dog Formerly Known as Prince yet?"


"Don’t forget." She drinks some coffee, studying the front page of the newspaper.

"As if."

"It’s too early for snide and snappy, Blake. I can listen to it later, but not right now, okay?" She peels off her blouse, her face red and sweaty. "Aarghh, hot flash!"

"Jeez, Mom! People are eating here!"

She fans herself with the newspaper. "I swear, it’s starting to happen every morning! Could it be the coffee?" She shakes her head. "I don’t care. I am never giving up coffee."

I keep my eyes on my cereal. It never used to bother me when my mom ran around half dressed. But now that I have an actual girlfriend whose actual bra I have seen in person, it makes me feel kind of squicky to see my own mother in her bra.

Dad shuffles in from the other room. "Morning." He perks up when he sees Mom standing there half naked.

"Hi," says Mom, putting up her hands. "No, don’t hug me, I’m having a hot flash. What time did you get home?"

"Around one." Dad holds his arms out in a pretend hug and pats the air around Mom. "I couldn’t sleep, so I worked on my presentation for a while."

"Yeah, Dad, thanks," I say, flicking the photos farther away from me. "Can’t you remember to put stuff like this away? I’ve already vomited at the sight of it."

Dad chuckles.

Ahhh, the first laugh of the day. I’m going to be a comedian when I grow up, so I keep a log of how many times a day I make people laugh. Garrett says it’s ass to keep a log, but it is not ass. It is analytical.

"I’m going to dry my hair," says Mom, exiting the room. "And if Garrett is not up—"

I can hear her muttering, "He will rue the day" as she disappears down the hall.

I finish my cereal and stuff my books into my backpack, whistling a line from the new Gingerfred song, "I’m angry at my backpack, I hate how much it weighs."

As I slide my photo homework into my portfolio I think, These are good. No more listening to Mr. Malloy say, "Technically fine, Blake. But where’s the heart?" Phhft. He gave me a C last year. Who the hell gets a C in photo?

Dad sits with a cup of coffee, studying the bullet wounds.

"How come you were late last night?" I ask.

"Shooting. Downtown. The cops shot a homeless guy. They say he charged them."


"Bystanders heard the guy raving to himself, though, so he was probably mentally ill." Dad rubs his face. Even though he’s a medical examiner and his job depends on there being a supply of dead people, he would prefer that people not kill each other so randomly. "I wish the police could figure out a better way of dealing with the mentally ill than shooting them." He takes another sip of coffee. "Especially eleven times. That’s not for public knowledge, Blake, by the way."

I nod.

Garrett comes into the room, The Dog Formerly Known as Prince at his heels. Garrett is The Dog’s favorite; he sleeps in Garrett’s room. I don’t know how The Dog can stand it—the room reeks of sweat and stale farts. Maybe that’s perfume to a dog.

I pour two big scoops of kibble into The Dog’s food dish, and he tears himself away from Garrett’s side long enough to notice that yes, I am the one feeding him. Without so much as a mercy wag, he buries his snout in his dish.

I check the clock—just enough time to text Shannon:

Hi GF, can’t wait to see u. What r u wearing? heh. BF

"Haul ass, Studly," says Garrett. "We’re out in five."

Garrett started calling my Studly after I acquired an official GirlFriend. I guess it’s better than Ass-wipe, my previous nickname.

"You’re the one who’s late," I say.

Garrett’s big jock hands clench into fists, but he just looks at me.

I brush my teeth and head out to the driveway. Garrett’s not there yet. I lean against the hood of the car, checking my cell for a text from Shannon. No reply.

When Garrett finally shows up, I say, "What happened to hauling our asses?"

"If you don’t get yours off my car, you’re going to have it handed to you," he says.


"Your ass. Get it off. My car."

I step away from Monty, a 1964 Mercury Montclair Marauder that Garrett and Dad fixed up. My dad is a grease monkey at heart. When he’s not cutting up dead people, he’s usually in the garage dinking with pistons and valves and crankshafts and whatever-other-shafts make engines run.

Garrett leans over the windshield and studies it like a judge at a car show. Then he whips out a bandanna. No, I’m not kidding, he carries a bandanna around in his back pocket, not because he’s a gang member, but because he likes to cover up his shaved jock head when he’s in the sun. He polishes a speck on the windshield, then unlocks the door. We get in, and he backs out of the driveway without saying a word.

I flip on the radio and tune it to our school’s radio station.

The last yell ("Hehh!") of a James Brown song fades out, and a girl’s voice comes out of the speakers: "Good God, y’all! I’m Chick Trickster, flicking you some slick discs live from the Wild West studio at West Park High. And what a flippy, trippy, overly hip school this is! Just right for this chick. Pleased to meet you and greet you, don’t make me cheat you. Speaking of which, Franz Ferdinand is ‘Cheating On You,’ right here on 88.1 FM—KWST."

"Hey, it’s a girl," I say.


"It’s a girl on KWST."


"So I’ve never heard a girl DJ on there before."

Garrett grunts. "She’s probably a dog."

"What? Why would you think that?"

"Why else would she be on the radio? Hot chicks don’t go sit in a little studio and hide their hotness behind a microphone. They do cheerleading or the drama club or the dance team."

"Right, Gare. Every single hot chick in the world wants to be a cheerleader." I shake my head. "Maybe she likes music."

"Yeah. We’ll see."

We don’t talk the rest of the way, which is a relief.

Shannon is standing with Kaylee and Jasmine on the quad when I get there. She’s sooo luscious in her little white top—it barely reaches the waistband of her baggy shorts. There are "no bare midriffs" allowed at West Park High, but I can see a few millimeters of silky skin between her top and her shorts. I want to touch her like a junkie wants his drug.

"Hey," I call.

She doesn’t wave and smile when she sees me, which is my first clue that something’s up. Kaylee and Jasmine kind of slip away without speaking to me as I approach, which is my second clue.

Uh-oh. Maybe I can joke my way out of it, whatever it is.

"Houston, we have a problem," I say. "Shannon is not smiling. Repeat: not smiling."

Shannon continues to not-smile.

Hmm. "Baby?" I say, tilting my head at her.

"You know what?" she says.


"I am so done with the word ‘baby.’"

"Ohh-kay." Who are you and what have you done with Shannon?

"Not just you. Everyone! Guys calling each other baby. It’s enough already." She crosses her arms, as if disgusted by all slang.

Houston, a little help here? I think. Crashing and burning is imminent. Over?

The Houston in my head yells, Abort, abort!

"What’s going on?" I ask.

She doesn’t answer right away, just stares off into the distance with her cool blue eyes. Then she says, "You really don’t know?"

Oh. Mygod. I just wanted to get a little sugar before class! It’s waaay too early for this drama. "I’m, uh, wrong somehow? I’ve done something wrong. And I’m really, really sorry." I pause. The Houston in my head whispers that maybe I could risk a joke now. "Baby," I add.

Her lips twitch into a smile, and for a second I think I’ve made a spectacular landing. Houston and I start to congratulate each other.

Then she makes this bitter-beer face, like she’s mad at herself for smiling. "I can’t believe you!" she says, and storms off.

Wow. From bullet wounds at breakfast to girlfriends gone wrong. And it’s not even eight o’clock.

Meet the Author

L. K. Madigan lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, son, two big black dogs, hundreds of books, and a couple of vintage cars.Visit her at her website: www.lkmadigan.com.    

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Flash Burnout 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Erica_Elizabeth More than 1 year ago
Rest in Peace L.K. Madigan. Your writing will truly be missed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this from Blake's P.O.V. His fun loving attitude made this a great book to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked how he was both a loving boyfriend and a loyal, caring friend. But I think sometimes in life, you have to chose one or the other ... But overall, a great book! Slow-going sometimes, but good book(:
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Sierra Clegg More than 1 year ago
Taking a photography class next year because this book! Super amped for it!
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321Run More than 1 year ago
Super good book. it seems, like it might be predictable at the end, but it isn't. I couldn't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ShelbyKae More than 1 year ago
This book, is flawless. Absolutely amazing in so many ways. My favorite book by far, and is just flat out amazing! Speachless. This book was just amazing. I loved it. And I LOVED how it had photography tied in with it. Defenitly read it. So worthwhile.
the1stdaughter More than 1 year ago
"First off, I need to say I'm shocked, really. All of the way through the book I wondered continually if the author was male or female. As you can see, if not intentionally, the first name of the author was left off the book and only the first to initials and last name were revealed (L.K. Madigan). Not until I was completely done with the book and preparing to write the review did I research about the author. Now, why am I shocked? Never in my mind would I have thought a female author could write from the viewpoint of a male character so well. This could be because not many of the books I read have a male character in the lead, but I was surprised and pleasantly so. "Flash Burnout focuses on the life of a young high school boy, Blake, and the struggles he has balancing friendship and new love. How do you choose between a close friend with a troubled background and the girlfriend you've just told you love for the first time? It's complicated and along the way Blake makes some somewhat juvenile mistakes as well as some other not so juvenile mistakes. He also shares with you his comedic ability and whit, which will keep you laughing even through the tough times in the book. "What I found most interesting about Flash Burnout was viewing this time of life through his eyes. I know how things happened through my own eyes back in high school, but it was neat to see how similar it really was for a young man. Now I'm not going to say Blake was a saint by any means, in some ways he was very much a typical teenage boy with raging hormones and a one track mind eighty percent of the time. But there were times when you could see the depth of character he had, the concern for the people in his life and it wasn't entirely driven by his desire to fulfill some carnal impulse he may have. "All this being said, the book still had plenty of what I would think a 'typical' teenage male would think about. As a parent of a some day teenage boy, I'm thinking about possibly loaning him out during those years, just so I don't have to think about it. (Not really! I'm only kidding.) With that, I would have to say I think this book is a tad bit too mature in content for someone under the age of sixteen. I'm not kidding myself here, I know teenagers tend to have one track minds. But as a parent I feel it's irresponsible to condone this behavior by handing over a book full of it during a time when I feel it's inappropriate. That's just me, you may feel differently, and I'd actually be interested to hear what you think. Let me know."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was really good. It was also really surprising, to me at least. I liked the story and the inclusion of photography. The author did a really good job of adding the elements of photography in the beginning of each chapter. The ending really made me wonder what happened and the even though the main character had his faults I still felt bad for him when things went wrong. It was a really good book and I definitely recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It telldi
Mother-Daughter-Book-Club More than 1 year ago
Blake has a pretty good life for a high school sophomore. He's got a girlfriend who loves him and makes him happy, he's got good friends, and for the most part he likes his classes in school. And he lives in a loving home with two parents and his older brother Garrett. He doesn't give his situation much thought until he's showing a photo assignment to his friend Marissa in class one day. When he uncovers a photo of a homeless woman passed out on the sidewalk, Marissa gasps and says, "That's my mom." Suddenly he's compelled into Marissa's life in unexpected ways and finding out that not everyone leads mundane, uneventful lives away from school. As he's drawn to help Marissa more and more, Blake's relationship with his girlfriend, Shannon, becomes strained. Can he be the friend Marissa needs and the boyfriend Shannon expects at the same time? Flash Burnout by L. K. Madigan juxtaposes suburban middle-class life against the lives of the homeless and addicted. It shows the toll addiction and neglect can take not only on family members, but also on friends and others in the community around them. The book covers issues of sexual abstinence, safe sex, underage drinking, using alcohol to escape, honesty in relationships and more. It also introduces complex supporting characters that add interest to the story: Blake's mother is a hospital chaplain, and his father is a coroner. Garrett interns at the morgue with his dad. (Their work discussions make Blake queasy and may do the same for some readers.) Marissa's brother Gus is a thrill-seeking bike messenger who takes responsibility for his family. Madigan lives in Portland, and I really enjoyed picking up on some of the local references in Flash Burnout. I would have liked to know more about Blake's conflicted thoughts between his feelings for his girlfriend and his friend, particularly after a particular event near the end, and I would have preferred less description of Blake's ordinary life. Even so, I really liked following his story, and I liked that Flash Burnout doesn't tidy up all the answers into a nice package at the end; instead it asks the reader to consider what will happen next. I believe the issues and the characters should provide great discussions for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 14 and up. Flash Burnout is Madigan's debut novel, and I eagerly anticipate her next book.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Blake is trying to understand relationships. He has a girlfriend and he is also the friend of a girl. Both relationships are important to him, but he realizes balancing them requires artful skill much like in his hobby of photography. There are rules to follow and one mistake can cause everything to go out of focus. Blake is a cool character. He dreams of life as a stand-up comic and uses almost every opportunity to test out jokes and one-liners. He chalks up an invisible mark every time he gets a laugh. Many of those laughs come from Shannon. Blake can't believe how much fun she is, how beautiful she is, and how much he is really starting to love her. Marissa is Blake's partner in photography class. As the two youngest in the class, they became partners by default, but it's a partnership that has worked well. Their friendship revolves strictly around photography until the day Blake accidentally takes a picture of Marissa's mother. He didn't realize they were mother and daughter when he stumbled across the homeless woman sleeping on the street. The photo begins a change in their friendship as Blake learns the truth about Marissa's mother. What makes this story unique is the combination of an interesting cast of characters in a mix of serious situations and refreshing humor. My attention was immediately grabbed in the opening pages as Blake enters the kitchen for breakfast. He describes the snapshots of gunshot wounds fanned out across the kitchen table and the snoring of his father, the coroner, asleep on the nearby couch. Then there's the entrance of his mother, a hospital chaplain, dressed in only underwear and a blouse. As she fixes her morning coffee, Blake is disgusted, but not particularly shocked, when she warns of an oncoming hot flash and promptly removes her blouse. With an introduction like that, how can readers not continue turning pages? L. K. Madigan has fun with her characters as she takes them through the good times and the bad. Readers are sure to find at least one character to relate to and at least one experience to learn from. Several added bonuses include a photography tip at the beginning of each chapter and two interesting playlists with commentary from Blake at the end of the book. FLASH BURNOUT doesn't come out until October 2009, but be sure to watch for it; it's a worthwhile read.
SJYALitExaminer More than 1 year ago
Blake is 15, tolerates his family's wackiness, loves his girlfriend, and wants to help his friends. He is in Photo II and attempts to capture the world around him with his camera. One of these shots that he has taken is shown to his friend Marissa, who is not pleased with what she sees: her mom who has been missing for a year. In his attempt to do the right thing and help his friend out, he isolates himself from his friends and his girlfriend. The teen angst that is inherent with these situations makes us as readers empathize with these good-hearted attempts. This book will make you realize a) how normal your parents are, as nuts as they may seem and b) how valuable friends and family are. Madigan does a superb job capturing the thoughts and words of a 15-year-old, and the story and plot is so compelling, you won't want to leave this story behind. This book is a reminder that we all get our hearts broken and suffer from loss, and we always have people who will be there rooting for us.