How to Set a Fire and Why (Hardcover)

Staff Pick Logo
How to Set a Fire and Why Cover Image
Special Order - Subject to Availability

Staff Reviews

A teenaged genius misanthrope searches for her place in the world and finds it in destruction. Lucia Stanton is a Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield kind of character--wise beyond her years, acerbic, funny, always getting into trouble. When a family tragedy makes her an orphan, she finds acceptance in her high school's secret Arson Club. But what will happen when she finds a worthy target for her wrath? And how will she choose it? In propulsive, stylized prose, Jesse Ball depicts adolescent alienation as a form of bold social criticism and raises complex moral questions in the process. I could see this novel becoming a cult classic--being passed among precocious high schoolers reading beyond their years and fed up with ineffectual system around them--for a long time to come. A great read full of anger, smarts, heart, and

— From Keaton recommends...

July 2016 Indie Next List

“On page one of Ball's new novel, 16-year-old Lucia Stanton gets kicked out of school for stabbing the star basketball player in the neck with a pencil. Lucia is a delinquent, a philosopher, a shard of glass. She's also an aspiring arsonist and an iconoclast, who is vibrant, alive, and charming in a misanthropic way. Ball's prose is precise and deceptively spare, his message dynamic in what he doesn't write. Enlightenment thinkers used the symbol of the flame to represent the power and transmission of knowledge. It's in this tradition that How to Set a Fire and Why becomes Ball's pyrotechnic masterpiece.”
— Matt Nixon (M), The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN


A teenage girl. A shattering loss. An obsession with a secret arson club. This is the story of a girl who has nothing and will burn anything.

Lucia's father is dead, her mother is in a mental hospital, and she's living in a garage-turned-bedroom with her aunt. And now she's been kicked out of school--again. Making her way through the world with only a book, a zippo lighter, a pocketful of stolen licorice, a biting wit, and the striking intel-ligence that she tries to hide, Lucia spends her days riding the bus to visit her mother and following the only rule that makes any sense to her: Don't do things you aren't proud of. But when she discovers that her new school has a secret Arson Club, she's willing to do anything to be a part of it, and her life is sud-denly lit up. As Lucia's fascination with the Arson Club grows, her story becomes one of misguided friendship and, ultimately, destruction.

About the Author

JESSE BALL (1978- ). Born in New York. The author of fourteen books, most recently the novel How to Set a Fire and Why. His works have been published to acclaim in many parts of the world and translated into more than a dozen languages. He is on the faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, won the 2008 Paris Review Plimpton Prize, was long-listed for the National Book Award, and has been a fellow of the NEA, Creative Capital, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Product Details
ISBN: 9781101870570
ISBN-10: 1101870575
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publication Date: July 5th, 2016
Pages: 304
Language: English