Burnout – written by Rebecca Donner, illustrated by Inaki Miranda


When Danni and her mom move in with her mom’s alcoholic boyfriend, Danni develops a fierce crush on Haskell, her soon-to-be stepbrother who’s a hardcore environmentalist. Desperate and confused, Danni wrestles with what she’s willing to sacrifice as she confronts first love, family secrets, and the politics of ecoterrorism – set against the lush backdrop of the Pacific Northwest (Donner & Miranda, 2008).

From the now defunct Minx series, Burnout broaches ecoterrorism, illicit and near-incestuous teenage curiosity, alcoholism, abuse, and apparent (though mis-perceived) adolescent apathy in a beautifully illustrated and highly controversial 140-page package that many teachers will be hesitate to house in their classrooms. This is not to say that Burnout is too hot to handle. However, it may be a bit too complicated and mature for younger students.

The story begins and ends with protagonist Danni applying a lighter to her index finger to see how long she “can stand it” (Donner & Miranda, 2008). After the the plot concludes during which she moves into abuse stepfather Hank’s home, shares a room with Hank’s son Haskell, becomes romantically involved with her apparent stepbrother, moves away from her more rebellious best friend Vivian, and becomes involved in Hank’s “activism” — spiking trees to prevent deforestation and shooting down powerlines which leads to an unintended forest fire, Vivian’s attempts to test her pain tolerance have grown by at least one second.

Textually and graphically, the text will support student reading. The best pieces include Danni’s time spent in history lectures where her apparently perverted teacher (who at one point “stare[s] at [Vivian’s] tits”) presents lectures on revolutionaries such as Che Guevara while students send text messages to one another under their desks. These are the positive points that would encourage librarians and teachers to shelve this book.

On the other hand, Vivian is characterized through cursing, low-cut shirts and short skirts, and at one point removes her shirt during band practice and implores a bandmate to “Suck on ’em, baby!” Later, Danni and Haskell’s mutual attraction boils over, and Donner and Miranda keep the text appropriate for the audience by having the parents arrive home just as the graphics become, well, graphic. Furthermore, while ecoterrorism certainly presents excellent questions of ethics and activism for high school students to consider, Haskell’s activity may not be construed as rational by all readers.

Clearly, Burnout would only be appropriate for high school audiences, and even then, many teachers may hesitate to introduce this text. It would become a distraction amongst immature students, and many parents may object to the content. In the end, Haskell’s subversive activity is not glorified when he accidentally burns down the forest, so the message in the text does not aim to glorify his actions.

Instructionally, Burnout may not appear relevant at first. However, Donner offers a unique perspective in an interview with Comic Book Resources. She notes, “The teenage guy and girl in question know they’ll soon be stepbrother and stepsister, so they’re star-crossed lovers in this quasi-incest situation — call it a modern twist on the Montagues and the Capulets” (Jensen, 2008). I certainly did not think connection while reading, but Donner’s idea presents a classic twist on connecting near-ancient texts like Romeo & Juliet to contemporary teenage confusion in 2010 and beyond.

At first, I was not going to house this text in my classroom, but after more consideration, I will place it on the graphic novel shelf on Monday. Why? It’s a good book. I enjoyed reading it, and if someone else will one day, it’s worth whatever justification I may need to provide. Additionally, fans of the Minx series (who have been both male and female in my experience) will find yet another text that provokes mature subject matter and ethical conflicts that are fare more important than any state-mandated curriculum standard.


About marcginsberg

I teach high school English in Athens, GA. I read graphic novels and catch live music whenever possible. I walk my dog Humphrey and kid myself that I'm a distance runner.
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