Review of Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

This was a really intense book, at times devastating, but I’m glad I read it.  Just know that it isn’t an easy read.

It’s the story of two girls who meet in Indravalli, India who meet as teenagers.  Both are poor, uneducated, and forced to work to support their families, although even in poverty there’s a huge gulf between the two. Poornima’s mother is dead and her father cares only about marrying her off (although it’s not clear why when he has to pay her dowry, and when her work actually earns him money).  Savitha comes to work beside Poornima, on her father’s two looms. The girls become close friends, but are separated when Poornima is promised in marriage.

This is a story of friendship, but also a story of the horrific things that are done to women (in India, but not limited to India). There’s rape, human trafficking, domestic abuse. The reader is introduced to these girls who are full of dreams, though in truth, neither expects much from their lives.

As a title like Girls Burn Brighter suggests, this book is anything but subtle.  Rao uses recurring symbolism of fire and flight (“you, you girl of mine, you’re the one with wings”). And though not subtle, the writing is really beautiful, and the characters are so well-developed.  In the beginning, Savitha is the stronger one.  She’s opinionated, certain, a dreamer. She’s the one who protects her friend from harm.  Later, Poornima finds that she’ll have to become strong for herself.  The book could easily become maudlin at times, but it doesn’t.

I’m having a very difficult time describing this book.  Some reviews practically write themselves, but this one is tough.  I’ll let Rao’s writing speak for itself.

 “What fools we all are. We are 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.”

Author Shobha Rao moved to the United States from India at the age of seven, and this is her first novel.  For those trying to read more about other countries, this is certainly a window into the culture and traditions of India.  Though it paints a devastating picture, I also found much about it beautiful (for example, the vivid colors, sounds, and flavors the author describes).  It’s also worth reading for those who don’t think human trafficking is happening within our very borders.

It’s heartbreaking at times, but it’s worth the read to experience the journey of these two women. I highly recommend it.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Flatiron Books.  The book published on March 6, 2018.

Challenges: this book meets the Reading All Around the World Challenge (India) and the Read Harder 2018 Challenge (a book set in one of the five BRICS countries).

  5 comments for “Review of Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

  1. Susie | Novel Visits
    March 17, 2018 at 2:35 pm

    I think you’ve done a wonderful job reviewing Girls Burn Brighter. I struggled with my review, also. For me this books was so brutal I wish I hadn’t read it because i just can’t forget some of those scenes. On the other hand, I’ll never forget it.

    • March 18, 2018 at 10:17 pm

      Thanks Susie. I’ve had that experience with some books, where something really violent gets burned into your memory. I won’t forget this one either.

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