The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon (2005)

burnAn intensely honest and personal memoir about physical and emotional recovery.

Recommended grade level: 8 and up

Pages: 336 (for ISBN 9781400096428)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, memoir, narrative nonfiction

Tone/Style: personal, honest, humorous

Pace: moderate

Topics: burn recovery, suicide

Themes: healing, mental illness, regaining something that was lost, discovering the purpose for one’s own actions

Summary: In 1991, fourteen-year-old Brent Runyon came home from school, doused his bathrobe in gasoline, put it on, and lit a match.

He suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body and spent the next year recovering in hospitals and rehab facilities. During that year of physical recovery, Runyon began to question what he’d done, undertaking the complicated journey from near-death back to high school, and from suicide back to the emotional mainstream of life.

In the tradition of Running with Scissors and Girl, Interrupted, The Burn Journals is a truly remarkable book about teenage despair and recovery. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Brent strikes me as a modern Holden Caulfield. Readers who like authentic, honest, and humorous voices will enjoy hearing his story. He truly feels like a good friend by the end of the book.

Who won’t like this book?: Some readers may find Brent’s voice and juvenile concerns irritating. This book may not focus on mental illness enough to appeal to readers looking to learn about that experience (see “Other Comments: section below).

Other comments: On the surface this sounds like a book about mental illness, but Brent spends most of the time trying to avoid thinking about why he wanted to kill himself, and the mental health treatment he describes is minimal and does not seem to be of very high quality, from a reader’s perspective. There is much more about burn treatment and about Brent’s general feelings as a young teenage boy recovering from serious injury.

This book is recommended for mature readers. There is heavy swearing and frequent reference to sex and sexual activities. Most of these are thought about but do not occur, so details are not given. For a guy with burns on 85% of his body, this kid sure spends a lot of time thinking about his dick!


Readalikes: Cut by Patricia McCormick (recommended for grades 7+) and Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher are some other books about self-injury and suicide. For mature readers who don’t mind grittier material and some sexual content, try Impulse by Ellen Hopkins, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or self-harm, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Don’t use a permanent solution to a temporary problem! You are not alone.


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