Review of “Kerosene” by Chris Wooding

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On my journey to read the 30 something books that have been sitting on my bookshelf for what feels like decades, there are a few that I’ve read before, but just feel the need to read again. Kerosene by Chris Wooding is one of those books.

I originally read Kerosene in high school, which now feels like ages ago. I remember that I liked it, but I guess I didn’t really like it all that much since I couldn’t remember anything about it. And after finishing it in a whopping 3 days I must say that I probably didn’t really like it, because I didn’t really like it this time around.

The main plot is about this teenaged boy named Cal Sampson who’s a pyromaniac. He also has social issues where he’s afraid to speak in public and if he’s noticed by anyone he almost has a panic attack. So when one of the most popular girls in school starts talking to him, Cal has a hunch that it’s just a prank and resorts to hiding deeper within himself.

Looking back I can actually see myself liking this when I was in high school. But after four years of going to college for a writing degree many flaws stared at me as I read it. But first I’ll go over what I liked about it.

The writing style was kind of different. It was written completely in third person, but the book opened written as if it was written to be made into a movie. One thing that I liked, but did bother me a little, was the fact that the point of view of characters switched so quickly. The reader would be looking through Cal’s eyes for fifteen pages and then his best friend walks into the room and you’re suddenly looking through his eyes. This technique may be confusing to some, and is a technique I don’t see often. Usually writers wait until the end of a chapter, or a break in the chapter, before switching characters.

Sadly, that’s probably the only thing I could say I liked about the book, and I didn’t even like that technique that much. The plot was scattered and pretty weak. I wasn’t exactly sure why Cal did many of the things that he did because all his reasons were thin.The ending was also pretty preachy, repeating over and over that it’s okay to go to someone if you need help.

A barrier I could see while reading it is that the author is from London, so it takes place in England and has all the British slang and school system. I loved that it was so accurate, but to an American reader who doesn’t know the British slang it may be a turn off. Or they may be fascinated by it and want to look everything up. That is an issue that’s a double edged sword that writers should take with caution.

I also felt the story had too much exposition. The author told a lot of the story instead of showing the reader what was going on. While I could imagine a lot of what was going on, more often I found myself coming out of my imagination and noticing the page and words in front of me.

Finally, the characters were weak as well. As I read through the book, I wasn’t sure why the characters interacted between each other the way they did. It seemed that half of them just met each other, but they were acting like they knew one another their whole lives. Their background stories also seemed fake. The author had the tendency to just touch on a subject from their past before quickly moving on and then expecting the reader to know that the characters’ were acting a certain way because of the incident that happened when they were 5. It would have been a little better if the author decided to show us some of the characters background in memories or flashbacks in order to make the story connect better.

I know this review was more of a negative Nancy piece, but it’s hard to ignore what you see staring you in the face. Although I didn’t like the book overall, I still would recommend that people read it. What I see as weak plot and disconnected characters someone else may feel as coherent. I would mainly suggest it to younger readers (ages 12-15) because that’s what it seems more geared to. The preachiness may be a turn off, but that’s a small price to pay for a book that pre-teens and teens can easily connect with.

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