Flash Burnout begins on a normal day in Blake’s household. He finds pictures of corpses on the kitchen table and tells his dad, a medical examiner, not to leave work lying around where people eat. Blake’s mom, a hospital chaplain, walks around in her underwear complaining about hot flashes. Garrett, Blake’s older brother, drives him to school but refuses to speak to him after they arrive.
Blake has a girlfriend, Shannon, and a friend who is a girl, Marissa. Shannon is funny and athletic. Marissa is friendly but sad. She and Blake take a photography class together, and one day she stares in shock at a picture he has taken of a homeless woman in downtown Portland. “That’s my mom!” she says. After class, she leaves school and does not return for days.
Blake is worried about Marissa, so he walks to her house one afternoon when Shannon is busy at soccer practice. He finds her looking far happier than he expected. She has found her mother, who is there at the house with her. She has agreed to enter rehab at the end of the week. She is a gaunt woman who is missing teeth and keeps bursting into tears. Blake suffers through a short, awkward conversation with her. Afterward Marissa asks him not to tell anyone at school what is going on.
Shannon is jealous of Blake’s friendship with Marissa, but otherwise their relationship is developing well. One day in the coffee shop after school, Shannon says she loves him. Overwhelmed but pleased, Blake says he loves her back. Later he goes home and tells his mom about it.
Blake’s mom is happy that he is in love with Shannon, but she is more concerned about Marissa, who recently visited their house sporting a black eye. Blake explains that Marissa got hurt at Hurtle, an extreme biking event, but his mom still seems concerned that something may be wrong in Marissa’s life. Blake does not know how to explain about Marissa’s mom, so he does not try.
Blake is not the sort of guy who enjoys adrenaline sports, but the next time Marissa goes to Hurtle, he goes along to take photos. His photography teacher is impatient with the uniformly gritty photos Blake takes, but Blake is not interested in more emotional content. He is overjoyed at the tattoos and toughness he sees amongst the Hurtle competitors, and he wanders around happily snapping pictures.
Marissa participates in Hurtle because of Gus, her brother. She introduces him to Blake, who notices that Gus has a tattoo on his arm: it is an angel with the name Kat written underneath. Blake knows that Marissa carries a similar angel in her pocket. When he sees Blake looking, Gus says of the tattoo, “It reminds me to take care of the people I love.” At this, Marissa looks sad and tells him that he was a little kid and that he did as well as could be expected. This makes Blake wonder if Kat is a person, but he does not ask. He does not think he is ready to hear the answer.
Blake and Shannon are not having sex, but they spend a good deal of time making out. One day Blake’s dad calls him to help with something in the garage. This is unusual, so Blake is confused until his dad announces that they need to talk about safe sex. Blake nearly dies of embarrassment as his dad talks about how important it is for Blake to be respectful and back off if a girl says no—an assertion that Blake reacts to with an unspoken “duh!” His dad says that he knows Blake will do the right thing. Then he shows him a box of condoms and makes him take one to go.
When Marissa’s mom gets back from rehab, Marissa asks Blake to come over and take some pictures. She explains that because Blake took a picture of her mom messed up, she wants him to photograph her sober, too. Because Shannon has been acting jealous lately, Blake does not tell her he is going to Marissa’s house. He snaps the pictures hurriedly and leaves as soon as he can; he still feels uncomfortable around Marissa’s mom. Soon after, Shannon finds out he went to Marissa’s house, and they get into a fight. Blake’s promise to Marissa prevents him from explaining exactly what he was doing, but he promises Shannon that she can trust him.
Christmas is coming up, and Blake asks everyone in his family what he should buy for Shannon. None of them can tell him, although his mom advises him to give her something that relates to what she likes to do. This does not give Blake any ideas, so he gathers his courage and calls Shannon’s mother, Mrs. DeWinter. He has long been convinced that she does not like him, so he is pleasantly surprised when she says that she recently noticed Shannon looking at a necklace in the window of a shop called Metals. “If you know Shannon, you’ll know exactly which necklace she likes,” she says.
Blake assumes that Mrs. DeWinter is challenging him to prove that he knows her daughter well enough to pick out the perfect necklace. He goes to Metals and chooses a necklace he thinks Shannon would like. When he and Shannon exchange gifts, she is clearly happy with it. When Mrs. DeWinter sees it, however, she glances at Blake—and he can see that he picked out the wrong one. He is mortified.
Blake and his family spend Christmas in New York; when he returns, he feels strange and shy around Shannon. She is wearing a beautiful piano necklace that her parents bought for her, and he feels sick to his stomach when he sees it. She notices his gaze and says that the necklace he bought will look better with summer clothes. For the time being, he is stuck seeing the piano necklace all the time and being constantly reminded that he did not choose correctly.
After the break, Marissa is missing from school. Blake calls her house. Marissa’s grandmother, Mrs. Stanmore, explains that Marissa’s mother has disappeared again. Marissa is out looking for her and has not been home since yesterday. The police refuse to look for a woman with a history of drug use, and they do not consider Marissa to be truly missing because she said what she was planning to...
(The entire section is 2466 words.)