The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon

August 7, 2009

The Burn Journals
Brent Runyon
ISBN 0-375-82621-1
Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
Grade 8 and up

Fourteen-year-old Brent cannot stand the thought of facing his parents after screwing up again. The only way out he can see is death, but when his plans go wrong, Brent endures a year of pain and recovery.


At age fourteen Brent Runyon sets himself on fire. He is depressed and in trouble at school again; he’s already tried to kill himself several times, he figures fire is an element you can’t back down from. Boy, was he wrong. Rather than face the consequences of his actions, Brent puts on his bathrobe, douses it in gasoline, steps into the bathtub and lights a match. After mere moments the pain is more than he can stand. He turns on the shower and puts out the flames. Unsure of what to do, he leaves the bathroom to find his brother. And so begins Brent’s year in rehab and therapy. The Burn Journals recounts his painful physical and mental healing as a result of the third-degree burns covering eighty-five percent of his body. Brent endures skin grafts, operations, and physical and psychiatric therapy. He thinks his brother hates him, he has to deal with social repercussions.


Wow. This is quite a story, parts of it are very shocking and moving, but overall I found the book lacking. Although the book was engrossing, it seemed there was a level of his mental healing process that Runyon could not communicate. Why was he so depressed? Was he a pyromaniac? What was wrong with him? I was left with a lot of unanswered questions by this one — Runyon offers up no answers or solutions except for the importance of help. However, I think it is a valuable addition to a teen biography/memoir collection.

Curriculum Ties:

Use The Burn Journals while studying memoirs in a Language Arts or English class.


Suicide, graphic descriptions of Brent’s physical recuperation.

Have challengers read the entire book. Highlight the importance of discussing depression in teen boys as well as girls.

Selection Rationale:

I read good reviews of this book, but that isn’t why I included it. This is a book about male depression, an important and seldom addressed issue. The Burn Journals is important for this reason. It will undeniably also appeal to girls.

ALA Popular Paperback for Young Adults, 2007


What does Brent’s brother see and feel when Brent walks out of the bathroom?

Author Information:

Brent Runyon, born 1977, has written three books for young adults. He is a regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life, where the story of his suicide attempt was first featured.

Additional Information:

The audiobook version of The Burn Journals is an ALA Amazing Audiobook for Young Adults (2009).

The Burn Journals


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