Burn by Melanie Saward is an emotional read that reflects upon why good kids do bad things through the lens of generational and collective trauma, depictions of decolonised justice systems, the ongoing effects of colonisation, and the harm that can stem from disconnection to Country and culture.
Burn is Saward’s debut novel and is developed from a short story she wrote during an undergraduate creative writing class. After working on it and honing it for fourteen years Saward has finally crafted it into this novel.
Burn is about Andrew, an indigenous young teenager who left Lutruwita in Tasmania begrudgingly to start a new life in Meanjin (Brisbane). After a fire breaks out near Andrew’s home, police search for the culprits. Andrew, knowing that police will soon come after him, almost wants to be caught so that he can be rescued by his father from life with his neglectful mother.
Growing up, Andrew found comfort from starting small fires. Something that he could finally control after struggling at home, school, and every other aspect of his life. However, this eventually gets him into trouble. From there, readers are gifted with a captivating split timeline of Andrew’s life. One from the past when he is a younger boy living in Lutruwita, Tasmania. The other set in present day in Meanjin, Brisbane, dealing with the fire, and trying to reunite with his father.
Burn contains incredible, yet easy to follow, prose making it an accessible read for everyone. Through Saward’s prose, incredible imagery is displayed. However, as someone familiar with the locations in the story, this could be my biased opinion. Though some of the geography is altered to better fit the book’s flow. Despite this, however, I fell in love with Saward’s descriptions of the environment, especially the beach scenes.
I also believe that the split timeline allowed me as a reader to better connect with Andrew as a character. So much so, that I found him to be a loveable, relatable, multi-dimensional, and well-rounded character. I enjoyed seeing Andrew grow throughout the novel and was satisfied with the conclusion to his narrative.