Burning Blue by Paul Griffin – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

How far would you go for love, beauty, and jealousy?

When Nicole Castro, the most beautiful girl in her wealthy New Jersey high school, is splashed with acid on the left side of her perfect face, the whole world takes notice. But quiet loner Jay Nazarro does more than that – he decides to find out who did it. Jay understands how it feels to be treated like a freak, and he also has a secret: He’s a brilliant hacker. But the deeper he digs, the more danger he’s in – and the more he falls for Nicole. Too bad everyone is turning into a suspect, including Nicole herself.

Award-winning author Paul Griffin has written a high-stakes, soulful mystery about the meaning–and dangers–of love and beauty.


Burning Blue is an intriguing mystery, one that explores the price of beauty in fascinating ways.

First off, as a mystery this story just works, and works well. From the start Griffin creates a wonderful creeping sense of unease, such that I was suspecting absolutely everyone, all too able to believe any one of the many characters was capable of perpetrating such violence against Nicole, up to and including Nicole herself. Add to that the horrifying and all-too-real nature of the crime, and all around it just made for an unsettling, intriguing whodunit.

As for Jay, our narrator – okay, yes, the fact that he’s a teen hacker is rather convenient (and have you noticed how frequently teen hackers have been cropping up of late?), but Jay is just a really, really good guy and as such he’s very easy to get behind. He also has a wry sense of humor, and a fascinating backstory to boot, and I found him utterly sympathetic and believable as the outsider looking in. As for Jay’s relationship with Nicole, I particularly enjoyed how Griffin danced around the Noir paradigm of a femme fatale, the damsel too good to be true, as Griffin carefully revealed Nicole as someone who could be just what she appeared to be, while all the while keeping me wondering who she really was, really. And so Griffin kept me on my toes, even as the relationship between Jay and Nicole began to bloom, and I loved how Griffin walked that tightrope, and kept me questioning her until the very end. All in all, it made for a good, tight, fun little mystery.

Even better was the way Griffin used his mystery to explore the many facets of how our society treats beauty – the advantages of having it, and yet how we objectify the people who do have it; how we all too often equate beauty with value, and teach girls to do the same; how we base our opinions of people solely on whether or not they have it; and how we pity those who once had and then lost it. I really loved how Griffin deconstructed Nicole’s “perfect” life, giving us a long look at how her beauty – and later lack thereof – affected her life and choices, in both the wealth such a veneer brings and the cost of maintaining it, and especially what it means to both be and not be beautiful in our era of youtube and facebook, when snap judgments come harder and faster than ever. It bought some real meat to this story.

All together, the horrible crime, intelligent mystery, and fascinating deconstruction of our society’s values make for a rock-solid read – and I just really, really liked what Griffin had to say about what happens to girls when they’re valued only for their beauty.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly (starred review) says:

The idea of finding beauty and value where most see ugliness and ruin runs through Griffin’s novels, and he brings that theme into sharp focus in this chilling, of-the-moment mystery.

Kirkus Reviews says:

Griffin fleshes out a gripping whodunit with a host of believable teen characters…A taut thriller explores the evolving relationship between two outsider teens