How to Set a Fire and Why

How to Set a Fire and Why

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Pub Date: 28/07/2016

Extent: 304pp

Format: paperback

ISBN: 1234567891234

RightsUK & Commonwealth: Text Publishing; Other: Penguin Random House USA

A startling, subversive novel about a teenage girl who has lost everything and will burn anything.

Fourteen-year-old Lucia is a young narrator whose voice will long ring in your ears. She is angry with almost everyone, especially people who tell her what to do. She follows the one rule that makes any sense to her: Don’t Do Things You Aren’t Proud Of. Orphaned and living with her elderly aunt in poverty in the converted garage of a large mansion, Lucia makes her way through the world with only a book, a Zippo lighter, and a pocket full of stolen licorice. Expelled from school, again, Lucia spends her days riding the bus to visit her mother in The Home. When Lucia discovers a secret Arson Club, she will do anything to be a part of it. Her own arson manifesto is a marvellous anarchist pamphlet, written with biting wit and striking intelligence.

The voice of teenaged Lucia is a tour de force: a brilliant, wrenching cry from the heart and mind of a super-smart, funny girl who can’t help telling us the truth, a riveting chronicle of family, misguided friendship, and loss.

How to Set a Fire and Why is Jesse Ball’s most accessible novel yet; after Silence Once Begun and A Cure for Suicide, the pyrotechnics on display here will dazzle.


‘A young genius who hits all of the right notes.’ Chicago Tribune

‘[Ball]’s both moral and whimsical, playfully experimenting with style and humour while fixated on the devastating effect of personal actions…Articulating a heartbreaking range of emotions with newfound accessibility, How to Set a Fire and Why deserves to be this cult author’s commercial breakout.’ Big Issue

‘In an age of blindly interchangeable YA narrators, this novel is a song of teenage heartbreak sung with a movingly particular sadness, a mature mediation on how actually say something, not just speaking, is what most makes a voice human.’ STARRED Review, Publishers Weekly

Jesse Ball has written an unforgettably memorable character in the pyromaniac Lucia, who anyone who was once a cynical teenager will recognize and relate to.’ Buzzfeed

‘Spare and elliptical, frog-hopping from scene to scene, making stories that aren’t plot-driven into page-turners.’ Huffington Post

‘Jesse Ball is known for his experimental styles, but this epistolary novel of a troubled teen girl in written with a more accessible approach but still delivers on wit, humor, and unexpected plot twists.’ Book Riot

‘This tension surrounding the question of which future Lucia will pursue drives the novel’s overarching narrative: books or fire, creation or destruction…As Lucia teeters between these opposing paths, her internal monologue is both brooding and delightfully sardonic, cycling through countless rhetorical gags and biting observations that are often revelatory in their recognition of society’s endless absurdities.’ LA Review of Books

‘Contemporary fiction with adolescent narrators risks either being clichéd and cloying, or convincing and rebarbative. But Jesse Ball’s latest novel, How To Set a Fire and Why, ventures an adolescent narrator who is both believable and bearable… In Jesse Ball’s hands, Lucia’s childlike simplicity manifests itself as a sort of refreshing perspicacity.’ Times Literary Supplement