In Jesse Ball’s latest novel, How to Set a Fire and Why, Lucia’s voice grabs the reader from the opening lines. She has just been expelled from her high school for stabbing a star basketball player in the neck with a pencil. When the reader learns why (because he touched her father’s lighter, the lighter being the only thing she has left of her deceased father) they are drawn completely into understanding Lucia’s logic. Lucia lives in a converted garage with her beloved, elderly aunt who is a staunch anarchist. Lucia is forced to supplement their lack of income by shoplifting what she needs, mostly licorice and cigarettes. In her new school, she meets a guy who worships her and one good girlfriend. The guy introduces her to the arson club which provides Lucia with the purpose she’s lacked. An under-performing student with a brilliant mind, a teacher notes Lucia’s intelligence and recommends her to test for a private school for which she wins a full scholarship. Lucia’s visits to the hospital where her mother is a patient are heart-breaking in the matter of fact manner in which Lucia describes them. If her mother is by the fish pond, Lucia can approach her without a scene, but if she’s in her room, the resulting fit ends the visit quickly. Lucia’s hope of her mother recognizing and responding to her is steadfastly cloaked by her resolve not to hope. Lucia is fierce and one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long time. She refuses to be a victim of her dire circumstances. With her tough, world weary affect, it’s not surprising that reviewers are comparing her to Holden Caulfield. What a voice!
Other books by Jesse Ball that I’ll be reading: