Why Atlanta Burns Should Be in Every English Classroom

Week 6: ATLANTA BURNS by Chuck Wendig


I think 1984 and Lord of the Flies are excellent, timeless classics. I think the themes they promote when looked at in the abstract are so powerful that they should be required reading for students in the final semesters of high school. But allow me to present a question to you that might give you pause on the current status quo of required high school reading. Are those books that every high school student wants to read, or can sympathize and relate to? I don’t think so. I think most students — and unfortunately, most means those who do not enjoy regularly reading — can’t really empathize with the idea of Big Brother, or how people would act when the restraints of society and law are peeled away.

I think the book that gets people engaged, learning and even reading more are books that they can relate to. Characters they can believe. Themes they themselves have experienced. I think that book is Atlanta Burns.

Maybe Chuck Wendig gets that blue check mark next to his name on Twitter and maybe he calls it quits tomorrow. To me, it doesn’t matter now. Atlanta Burns changed the game. The Wendig game. This is a book that I not only think high school kids need to read, I think it is a book that high school kids would want to read, and that in itself is a victory that can never be taken away.

People want to read about human characters. Characters that aren’t so glossy and pristine and make the last shot before the buzzer goes off. People want to read about characters that make them feel less shitty about being them under the predication that it’s not whether or not we make mistakes (because we are going to make mistakes), but rather what we’re going to do about them. That’s what Atlanta Burns was to me.

Atlanta Burns doesn’t exist in a setting that every single person has lived, but that’s unimportant. What’s important is Wendig writes believable characters with believable problems. I love a great story about the knight slaying the dragon, rescuing the princess and making off into the sunset, but I can’t personally relate and empathize with that. I can relate to bullying. I can relate to drug use. I can read a chapter of Atlanta Burns and all of a sudden be whisked back to a time in life that’s very similar, frighteningly similar even.

I’ll be honest, I read this book three weeks ago to the day that you’re currently reading these words because I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book. Allow me a chance to explain.

Grammatically, the book is a Chuck Wendig piece. Shorter than average sentences with impeccably powerful metaphors and wording that even the less whimsical can wrap their head around and empathize with. Wendig’s style is so ubiquitously unique that — and I’m literally stealing from his The Kick-Ass Writer here — if you gave me a Chuck Wendig book without a name attached to it, three pages in I’m going to know it’s a Chuck Wendig book. There’s no higher compliment I know how to give to a writer than that.

I think his writing style works wonderfully in today’s market, where long winded paragraphs and an over abundance of detail are just not the norm. We live in a world of ten second snapchats and 140 character tweets. I don’t know whether Chuck connected the dots on that or not, but I would even suggest that Chuck’s style is anticipatory for writers to come in the future.

Atlanta Burns is a character that you want to root for, but then she goes off and does something that makes you step back, pause and realize that the black and white went out with the invention of the color television and we all live in a life of grey. Every character in this book is a shade of grey. The bad guys are dicks, (of course they are) but Chuck keeps pumping them full of character and verve until they test positive for some sort of likeability.

The novel is exceptionally written and well paced and my lone disappointment is that I have but one copy to give away, when I know so many others that would benefit having read such a story.

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