ARC Review: Bang by Barry Lyga

Bang by Barry Lyga Book Review blog header

Published: April 18th, 2017 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers | Series: N/A | Length: 304 pages | Genre: YA contemporary | Source: I received an ARC from The Novl in exchange for an honest review. | Possible Triggers: suicide, gun violence, Islamophobia

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Summary from Goodreads:

One shot ruined his life. Another one could end it.

Sebastian Cody did something horrible, something no one—not even Sebastian himself—can forgive. At the age of four, he accidentally shot and killed his infant sister with his father’s gun.

Now, ten years later, Sebastian has lived with the guilt and horror for his entire life. With his best friend away for the summer, Sebastian has only a new friend—Aneesa—to distract him from his darkest thoughts. But even this relationship cannot blunt the pain of his past. Because Sebastian knows exactly how to rectify his childhood crime and sanctify his past.

It took a gun to get him into this.

Now he needs a gun to get out.

Every once in awhile, I read a book and before I’ve even finished it, I can tell it’s going to be one of my favorites. Bang was one of those books.

When I first heard about Bang, I knew I would like it. I’m a huge fan of gritty contemporary stories that talk about difficult topics and so I knew that a book that explores the effects of such a tragic event would be something I’d like reading. But I was wholly unprepared for how Lyga would bring this story to life and make it impossible to put down for more than a few minutes at a time.

I’ve mentioned in other reviews that I often have a hard time connecting with male protagonists. As a result, I tend to shy away from books that feature them. I’m thrilled that I didn’t let that happen with Bang because I actually found Sebastian to be a fantastic and very well-written lead. It probably goes without saying that I’ve never shot someone or done anything even close to as awful as Sebastian has. But that didn’t stop me from feeling really connected with him and really enjoying his character and development throughout the novel. Despite having only been four years old at the time of the incident, Sebastian still lives with a lot of guilt as a result of accidentally killing his baby sister and he finds it impossible to move on from that, his guilt hovering over him at every turn. But as the story goes on, you get to see the events of his summer and how they ultimately affect the way he views himself, his past, and the other people in his life. Seeing Sebastian’s growth is really what makes this novel so enticing.

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I was pleasantly surprised to find that Sebastian becomes friends with a Muslim girl, Aneesa, who moves in near him. I thoroughly enjoyed Aneesa as a character and I loved the relationship that builds between the two of them. Sebastian is happy that there’s finally someone who doesn’t know about his past and therefore can’t judge him based on what he did as a toddler, while Aneesa’s happy to meet someone who doesn’t judge her for standing out in such a white (and presumably Christian) town. They support and protect each other at every turn and I absolutely adored it. Obviously, as I am not Muslim and am white, I can’t make judgments on whether Aneesa’s character and family were written accurately and sensitively, but Lyga did mention after the acknowledgments that he talked to several people to try to avoid mistakes. If anyone knows of any Muslim reviewers who’ve reviewed Bang, please let me know!

My one complaint about Bang is that there were a couple of iffy comments here and there. Some of them are addressed later on. For example, Sebastian’s friend, Evan, tells him he’s been “friend-zoned” which immediately made me kind of angry because I hate the idea that women owe guys romantic or sexual attention simply for being nice to them. Luckily, Sebastian later mentions (although not to Evan) that “the key word in ‘friend-zoned’ is friend.” But there were other comments that were pretty cringe-worthy that are just accepted without question. (TW for eating disorders in the rest of this paragraph.) Aneesa and Sebastian decide to start a YouTube channel together where Sebastian makes pizza and Aneesa narrates (this happens early, I promise I’m not spoiling some huge surprise for you) and at one point, they make and eat a ton of pizza. Aneesa then jokes about sticking a finger down her throat to make herself puke so she can eat more pizza which made me cringe so badly. It seemed to really trivialize the seriousness of eating disorders like bulimia and there was nothing in the text to acknowledge or challenge that. So although the book overall was very good, there were still some comments made sparingly throughout the book that I think should’ve just been excluded.

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The last thing I want to mention is: BE PREPARED TO BE HUNGRY. This was a totally unexpected consequence of reading Bang, but holy crap, I wanted to eat so many of the pizzas that Sebastian and Aneesa made for their YouTube channel. At one point it got so bad, that I literally had to put down the book because it was making me so hungry. Maybe just make sure you have some pizza on hand when you’re reading this. 😉

Overall Thoughts

In case it isn’t obvious, I absolutely adored Bang. This was my first time reading one of Barry Lyga’s books, but I’m positive that I’ll be reading more of his work in the future. Unless suicide and/or gun violence is a very touchy subject for you and one that you have a hard time reading about (which is 100% understandable), I very highly recommend you read this. And if you’re worried that this will come across as preaching that “guns are bad,” don’t be! Although that’s certainly one lesson that can be taken away from the book, it really isn’t Lyga’s focus. There’s so much that readers can take away from this novel and so much to enjoy. I can already tell that Bang is a book that will stick with me for awhile and one that I’ll reread many times in the future.

Thank you to The Novl for providing me with a copy to honestly review.

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