Girls Burn Brighter
Girls Burn Brighter made me feel all the feels: horrified, sad, warm, and hopeful. It has such emotional power that even through the darkest moments – and trust me, there are some that turned my stomach – the overwhelming feeling of hope and survival are still marinating in my mind.
Set in Southern India against a bleak backdrop of poverty, arranged marriages, violence towards women, and a strict caste system of the Vaishyas, two girls form an unbreakable bond that help provide the strength to overcome the powerlessness and violence they encounter. When Savitha is hired by Poornima’s father to work one of their sari looms, the feeling of hope Poornima once had before her mother died, returns. But when Savitha is driven away by an act of extreme cruelty, Poornima leaves her grim world behind in search of Savitha, never losing the hope that she will find her again.
Shobha Rao’s debut novel, Girls Burn Brighter captures the power of redeeming woman friendships. Rao writes with such immense beauty, painting the landscape of India with such vividness, I felt as though I were there. And this is a good thing, as her stunning way with words balances the darker elements of the story, which were hard to read. The unspeakable horrors that Poornima and Savitha individually experienced left me with my mouth wide open in disgust. At the hands of men, they endure rapes, mutilation, forced prostitution, forcible drug-taking, and human trafficking. But amongst this unthinkable darkness shines a light on what friendship means and the depths we are prepared to endure in order to preserve it, and this is truly uplifting.
One day at work, a man coworker saw this book on my desk and said, “Girls burn brighter. Yeah they sure do when you throw them into the fire with all that makeup and hairspray.” That’s why we need books like this. They enlighten people on the battles fought every day by millions of women worldwide. They also have the extraordinary power to make us realize that the problems we face as women are not unique to any particular corner of the planet.
Girls Burn Brighter has such incredible warmth and glimmers of profound humanity that deeply touched me. It’s totally immersive. I felt completely consumed with the friends’ struggles, as Poornima traveled through the darkest corners of India’s underworld in search of her friend. She withstood torment and abuse, knowing that each time she did, she was one step closer to Savitha. That sort of friendship is rare and left me envious. It gave them the hope and courage to be patient, even through the most horrifying ordeals. It’s an example in perseverance we should all cherish.