Sunday, April 29, 2018

Book Review: Girls Burn Brighter

Author: Shobha Rao
Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books

“Incandescent...A searing portrait of what feminism looks like in much of the world.” ―Vogue

“A treat for Ferrante fans, exploring the bonds of friendship and how female ambition beats against the strictures of poverty and patriarchal societies.” ―The Huffington Post

An electrifying debut novel about the extraordinary bond between two girls driven apart by circumstance but relentless in their search for one another.

Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. Suddenly their Indian village doesn't feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond arranged marriage. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend.

Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India's underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face ruthless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within.

A disturbing look at the world that ultimately tears Poornima and Savitha, and their remarkable friendship, apart. These girls meet in a small Indian village, form a friendship that is fierce and undeniably inspirational, but are separated by unforeseen circumstances and forced to fight through the absolute worst of odds to be together again. They are both brave, unmistakably resilient, and overcome brutal lives that most of us would never be able to endure.

After these women are torn apart, readers will follow each of them and the lives they are living. Their journey is horrific, demoralizing, and not for the faint of heart. The suffering of both women is appalling and stomach-churning, but the reader can't help but admire their strength, cleverness, and persistence. 

Rao’s debut novel has quite possibly made her an auto-buy author for many people. The story is gut-wrenching and terrifying, but written in a way that makes it easier to digest. Rao’s debut puts precious and beloved human faces on the plight of young women who are sold around the world --- and even in America --- for others’ pleasure and profit - a crime we know as sex trafficking. Not every author could take on a topic as vast and horrifying as this – Rao’s pacing was perfect for all the tragic, disturbing things that happen to Poornima and Savitha. Rao doesn't shove everything at readers at one time. She sandwiches the bad in between the good. There are many things about this book that are beautiful, even if the main topic is cruel and horrible.

“Every moment in a woman's life was a deal, a deal for her body: first for its blooming and then for its wilting; first for her bleeding and then for her virginity and then for her bearing (counting only the sons) and for her widowing.”

“It was stillness, she learned, that at the time was the greatest movement.” 

“We girls. Afraid of the wrong things, at the wrong times. Afraid of a burned face, when outside, outside waiting for you are fires you cannot imagine. Men, holding matches up to your gasoline eyes. Flames, flames all around you, licking at your just-born breasts, your just-bled body. And infernos. Infernos as wide as the world. Waiting to impoverish you, make you ash, and even the wind, even the wind. Even the wind, my dear, she thought, watching you burn, willing it, passing over you, and through you. Scattering you, because you are a girl, and because you are ash.” 

Alternating from Poornima's and Savitha's points of view, Girls Burn Brighter is a feminist story studying the importance of female friendships. Please do not go into this book and think that this is a light-hearted story about friendship. No, this book is not that. It does share the importance of friendship and its beauty as well, but it also takes on a world that is eye-opening. You will come out changed after finishing this book, and hopefully like me, you will be changed for the better. Hopefully, like me, you will appreciate the world you have grown up in and you will call your girlfriends and talk for hours about all the beautiful memories you have shared!

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Flatiron Books in exchange for my honest review***

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