Author: Shobha Rao
Published: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Where I picked up my book: ARC from the publisher (THANK YOU)
Key Words: Indian culture, Feminism, Friendship, Domestic Abuse, Poverty
My Rating: 4 star
Synopsis (via Macmillian):
Longlisted for the 2018 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
“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, Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within.
Oooof, this was a hard one to read, but so so important, heart-wrenching, relevant and hopeful at the same time. It literally had me sobbing from page 2 if that tells you anything—but as a warning, it’s not for the faint of heart.
My first thought is how there might be nothing more that I value than other females in my life. I have always had close, female friendships (hello mom and dad-you acted blindsided by the whole lesbian thing, but come on). All kidding aside, I have always valued my female friendships and have continuously chosen to surround myself with powerful, smart, supportive women from an early age. Of course, I had friends that were boys growing up and a brother, but my best friends were other girls and there was something in us that screamed…you’re not stopping us no matter what you think! I then went to an all-female high school where I think most of my feminist empowerment came to be. We were taught we could do anything, equally well (if not better :)) than men. We were valued, supported, taught that the world was ours for the taking…it was that foundation and history of women that I stand tall and proud on today. So whenever I read books about strong, female friendships-I know my feminist heart is going to love it. This book is no exception and is one of the most powerful portrayals of female friendship that I have ever read.
My second thought-holy shit this book was hard to read. So hard, that at times, I had to put it down after literally feeling sick to my stomach. I’d like to give credit to Rao’s writing for this visceral reaction to some of what happens in this book (and let this be a warning to you if you are sensitive to intense abuse) but also…I’d like to remember that these sorts of terrible, terrible things happens and just because it’s so outside my understanding, doesn’t mean that it’s not important to know about, read about and acknowledge.
Thirdly, the writing is stunning and filled with description, savoring prose and vivid landscapes that made me feel like I was right there. I didn’t question what a home looked like, what a meal tasted like, or what a neighborhood felt like-it was given to me through Rao’s writing. I was walking where these girls walked, seeing what they saw, and experiencing what they experienced and that, my friends, is why we read. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it over again for the first time. Although in hindsight, I’m not sure if that would have been healthy for my mental state.
This book is nothing less than haunting, tragic, brutal, devastating, painful and heart-wrenching, but so poignant, powerful and hopeful at the same time. I was reminded how I have some friendships that I would go to the ends of the earth for and that we, as females, need to always remember to burn bright.