She flips through the photos, her face impassive. “Too bad about the flash burnout on this one.”I look over at the shot she’s indicating. “The what?”“The flash burnout. You got too close to the subject. So the flash overexposed her. Well, me, I mean.” Books like this remind me of why I love contemporary young adult fiction. Flash Burnout is by no means a perfect book. Its frank approach to love, lust, death and drug abuse may not hold universal appeal with readers. But where these themes often get over written, overblown, over dramatized, Flash Burnout handles them with finesse. The story that emerges from the finely balanced humour and sadness is a pitch-perfect, poignant snapshot of teen life, and the reality of growing up. Flash Burnout only appeared on my book radar when I heard through the blogosphere about the death of L K Madigan. The tributes to her writing, her life, her very person piqued my interest, but it wasn’t until this year that I actually got around to procuring Flash Burnout. And now I wonder what I was waiting for. There is a lot of talk/writing around the internets about “voice”, but if I wanted to show someone exactly what I think well done voice is, rather than try to tell them, I’d push a copy of this book into their hands. Because Madigan nails it. Throughout this entire story, Blake’s character spills off the pages. Through the serious, the funny, the macabre – it’s still Blake telling the story, Blake’s personality colouring the scenes, Blake’s fifteen-year-old-guy-lens filtering the world. And I loved this so hard. I laughed with him and at him, I cheered for him, I got mad at him, and my heart ached for him. Essentially, I believed just about every word of this book. It rang with authenticity, and had the heart that’s sometimes lacking from first person narration. This has also got to be one my favourite portrayals of family in a YA novel. Rather than being mere phantom presences, or convenient foils for adolescent hijinks, the Hewson parents have a real role in this story as strongly realized, important characters in their own right. From the awkward safe sex talk, to the brotherly ribbing, to their unconditional love and support, Blake’s family bring another dimension to this story, a vital layer to the characterisation of Blake.Then there’s Shannon and Marissa: the girlfriend who loves Blake, and the friend who needs him. It would have been easy for these two relationships to fall into cliché territory, or for one of them to be conveniently villainised, creating an easy way out of a tricky scenario. But instead, both girls are refreshingly interesting, flawed and sympathetic characters. While I anticipated where the plot was headed relatively quickly, I can’t say that this detracted from my reading experience. In fact, perhaps the opposite is true. Understanding what was likely to happen, where Madigan was going to push her characters, probably made it all the more intense. Flash Burnout doesn’t flinch from heading into murky territory when it comes to choices and actions. But I feel it’s well handled here. There’s a certain gravity to the writing, without coming across as heavy-handed or preachy. Neither does the story try to justify or shelter the characters from their decisions. Madigan simply lays it out in all of its raw, painful complexity. Most importantly though, I felt invested in these characters. I liked them. And I think it's this ability to create engaging characters that elicit a real response from the reader, that make this such a compelling story. I also appreciate the fact that there’s no big bow tying off the ending. It would have felt like a cop out, a betrayal of the honesty with which Madigan had chosen to tell the story. As Blake’s Mum would say “actions have consequences,” and the reality of navigating adolescence is not always a John Hughes film. I’m still reeling from the disappointment of that realisation :) This turned out to be a bit more of a gush than I set out to write. That tends to happen when I read a book that both surprises me and exceeds my expectations, and Flash Burnout did just that.