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"Burning Girl"

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A sophomore at Johns Hopkins, Drew Burke, the main character in Ben Neihart's Burning Girl (Rob Weisbach Books; $24), likes patchouli, pot, Neil Young, Saabs, Sylvia Plath, and sex -- all of which are supplied in plentiful quantities by his cool best friends, Jake and his older sister Bahar. Drew met Jake at a Jewel concert in Hershey Park; afterward, the two boys groped each other in the backseat of Jake's Volvo. Everyone's just mellowing out in their cozy late-teen world until Neihart foists a V. C. Andrews-esque plot of rape, incest, murder, and double cross upon them. Too deep inside Drew's head, Neihart allows this struggle with the deception perpetuated upon him by the siblings to take over the narrative, often expressed in italics: "Do I believe? Hadn't he almost confessed? Hadn't he? . . . What do I believe? Am I strong enough to believe anything?"


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