Girls Burn Brighter

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 13 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

A beautifully written novel of poverty, trauma, and loss. Covering the lives of two women born into poverty and forced to make a life for themselves in deeply patriarchal, rural India. The circumstances of their flight and eventual re-location to the US may seem unrealistic within just two characters, but could easily be taken as representative of possible trafficking victims.
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Poornima and Savitha became best friends growing up in India as they bonded together to survive the brutal conditions they face. Eventually, they are forced apart. Savitha is victimized and forced to flee her village, and Poornima is married off. Each situation is full of perils for the young women. Desperate to recover her friendship with Savitha, the only thing she really has left, Poornima leaves her life and seeks to reunite with her best friend. While I found the ending a bit forced, the book in its entirety was a powerful statement about what women endure in many parts of the world. This novel is well written and deeply affecting.
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novels of friendship are often given short shrift by critics usually rightly so due to the cliche manner most are written. however, Rao is able to write a literary novel that never feels to bloated or overly serious, instead staying focused and reveling in its depth of character
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Two strong feminine heroines who chose to determine their own destiny rather than have it 'arranged' for them.
Poornima and Savitha are both poor, ambitious, and determined young women. 
Poornima was forced into a marriage with Kishore while Savitha was struggling to survive having escaped from India heading East, West, or whatever way gave her freedom.
On their long, treacherous, horrendously vicious journey these two women had remarkably similar paths that would leave them battered, bruised, but stronger than ever to make it out alive.
Facing brothels, facing abuse, facing insurmountable odds, these two women continued to fight refusing to allow a man to 'own' them.
Cleaning houses and selling their bodies was not what the cards had dealt them because these women were 'shepherds' but more so they were 'leaders' for the free world.
A world that need not keep a women from spreading her wings and flying.
Learning English was just one part of the struggle as these women were lied to, cheated, robbed, and in one case even had agreed to removal of a hand for money in seeking peace.
Mohan, Madhavi, Guru were some of the 'wicked' along the way but each one gave them something more to hold on too along this path.
Burned by oil, scarred for life, riddled with horrific dreams, having endured violent sex and much more these two women refused to give up.
It's this strength that captures the heart of the audience.
While I wasn't quite certain about the ending I did enjoy this novel and have a friend who escaped the same abuse from India with scars over much of her body but her soul is alive and well and her beauty shines from within regardless of her circumstances that brought her to America.
These women are the beacons of light for all the women who are fleeing for their lives to escape the atrocities they leave behind.
Thank you to Shobha Rao, the publisher, NetGalley and Aldiko for this ARC copy as well as Hoyt Library for this hard copy back up.
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Shobha Rao does an amazing job getting readers invested in the fates of Poornima and Savitha.  This well-written page turner had me rooting for these two friends to the very last word.
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This novel turned into much more than I bargained for. I did not anticipate the amount of tragedy and turmoil I was going to do through as a reader. Though at times I struggled to continue with the story, I thoroughly enjoyed the girls stories.
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A stunning debut that examines the enduring power of love, friendship, hope, and perseverance. Evocative without being manipulative, Rao writes the story of two best friends with a sure hand and a powerful voice that doesn't go quietly into the night but rather shouts from the heaven the atrocities that befall them and the amazing tenacity and willpower that allows them to survive. A bittersweet story that is a stunning tribute to women and feminism as through the lens of misogyny and poverty that will break your heart a million times but leave you oddly satisfied in the end. One of my top reads for 2018. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Rao in the future.
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This book was so good but also so hard to read at times. I couldn't just sit there and read it, I had to take it in chunks. The things that these women face is just unreal, but I also know that it IS real. Which just hurt even more.

The writing in this was beautiful and I really liked that we got both of the girls POVs. 

I just was a little disappointed by the ending. After everything these two went through, to end it where it did just felt like it was cut off. I was surprised when I turned the last page and found nothing more.
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Wow. I had no idea this book was about human trafficking. This gut-wrenching story of two young Indian women covers discussable topics ripped from today's headlines in a brutal and very real way. Although the lives of these two characters are constantly challenged by cultural horrors including mutilation for a 'better price' as well as disfigurement caused by an 'angry husband', they never waiver in their search for one another. Their individual drive and collective strengths, their willingness to defy what's expected of them, bring them to a final somewhat rewarding place. Meeting societal and cultural wrongs head on, Girls Burn Brighter is not for the faint of heart.
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Oh my! This one took my breath and my soul. A heartbreaking yet somehow ever hopeful story of the humiliation and abuse of two young women with no one or nothing to depend on but their love for each other. Although the story begins in India, it continues in the US as does the disregard for the value of the lives of these two women. Read at your own peril, as this book will not let you remain unmoved. I will not soon stop thinking of Poornima and Savitha and the real women like them who suffer ungodly abasement because of poverty and their sex.
I thank the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this title.
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One of my goals this year is to not only read new-to-me authors but also authors who write about different places, cultures and people to expand my knowledge. This was my choice for last month and it was a good one. Rao created vivid characters in Poornima and Savitha. They came alive for me and I felt both their strength and also their heartbreak. Women are more commodity than people in India and it broke my heart. I also sat in awe of their strength, their faith and their willingness to find their way to back to one another and a better life. It was an eye-opening read, although sometimes very bleak, and yet a triumphant showcase of the human spirit.
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This book. The things these girls go thru were so difficult to read about; that they stayed determined to find something better was amazing. Good read.
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If the cover doesn't set your world ablaze, the story certainly will.
Girls Burn Brighter is tragic and beautiful, a nearly snapped thread of tension. I like intense books like this.
Poornima and Savitha live deeply in poverty, doing whatever they can to survive. Steeped in love, friendships, loss, and, ultimately, survival, it was so hard to put down.
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Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter is an intense story of survival and sisterhood. 
And so much more. 

Set in India against a backdrop of a strict caste system, arranged marriages, and harsh poverty, the two main characters of Rao’s poetic story develop an unlikely friendship that proves to be an enduring constant on which they build the strength needed to endure the violence and powerlessness they experience. This alone is reason enough to read the book but I knew it was important to push myself past the initial awe at this story of strength and resiliency. When I did, I experienced an even deeper story of multidimensional characters navigating their lives and attempting to balance tradition with self-realization.

The book begins with a story about a temple in the village of Indravalli and the old childless woman who was responsible for growing the trees whose wood was used to build it. Referring to the trees as her children, the old woman is complimented on her good fortune to have so many sons. At this, with “her eyes on fire,” the woman quickly gives the correction that the trees are not her sons but her daughters. This story and its subtle emphasis on fire, wholeness, and the girl-child sets the tone for the book and these recurring themes.

As the book continues, the reader witnesses Rao’s distinct talent for detailed descriptions of the surroundings of her main characters, Poornima and Savitha. She offers us a vibrant, albeit stark, picture of life in Indravalli and the ever-present gender inequities women face. Both characters experience trauma that forces them apart and drastically changes the trajectories of their lives.
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3.5 Poornima and Savitha are two teenage girls living in various degrees of poverty. When Savitha is hired to help with the family livlihood of making saris, they become close friends. So much so that they seek each other out at every turn. A cruel act will send Savitha on the run, and shortly after Poornima will run from a horrible situation she finds herself in, now turning her attention to reuniting with her friend.

The story takes us from India to the United States, chapters alternate between the girls as they tell their story. Will take us from arranged marriages, human trafficking, and the plight of those used for cheap labor in the United States. Not an easy book to read, so many horrific things happen to these girls, alone in the world without a protector. I had to keep putting the book down, turning to something else, the abuse almost relentless at times. I felt so for these young women.

The title is to show that despite what these girls go through they still retain an inner light, with thoughts of their friendship to sustain them.  Regardless what they go through, these are the thoughts that keep them going, the hope of seeing each other again. So, it is also a novel of a very special frirndship. That is what also kept me reading. Would they find each other again?
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Initially I thought I was going to love this book about female friendship and the depth and strength of the bonds. My heart BROKE from the abuse and violence these two women endured. Then it became repetitive, plot-wise, the abuse, loneliness and longing to find each other and I skimmed some parts. The ending made me furious because sometimes you just want a solid conclusion not a choose your own. The writing is gorgeous, though.
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This was beautiful! The characters are complex and drawn in such a way that it is impossible to read without getting emotionally caught up in Poornima and Savitha's lives. A great book club book.
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Harrowing, but I couldn't put it down. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but the determination of these two protagonists is incredibly compelling.
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Thanks go to Net Galley and Flatiron Books for the review copy, which I read free and early in exchange for this review.  This book is for sale to the public now.

This story is billed as one of matchless friendship, and it is that, but the misery and despair are so stark and ever present as to destroy all hope, and this ambivalence is the reason for my slowness and frankly reluctance to review. 

Our story is set in India, and our two protagonists are Poornima, whose struggling father runs a small textile factory that makes saris, and Savitha, one of his workers. They become friends and uphold one another through the desperate struggle for survival. Poornima’s mother is gone, and the daughter is not considered beautiful, which makes her dowry an even more essential aspect of her marriage than it would otherwise be. She herself has no desire to marry, particularly not to someone she has never met and that only plans to marry her for the income generated by the union, but her father is genuinely eager to be rid of her—one more mouth to feed—and she is hustled through the ordeal despite her misgivings. 

Savitha has vowed to protect and defend her friend, but she is banished and must make a run for it. 

The entire story is bleak, stark, and horrible. For those that are unaware of the fate of some women in some Asian countries, this may be worth reading for enlightenment, but for many feminists this is not news. Stories of Indian women being fatally burned or badly disfigured by accidentally-on-purpose kitchen accidents by angry in-laws that expect more of a dowry price than is actually paid have circulated since the 1980s at least. I would have found the story more compelling and less difficult to read if there was some small twinkle of hope somewhere. At the seventy percent mark I decided I couldn’t stand it, but when I skipped to the end, I discovered that at least one protagonist was still alive, which is better than I expected, and so I went back and read the rest of it. It proved to be a small reward for a great deal of horror. 

Don’t get me wrong; if there was a way that even one woman in India could somehow be spared because I had read this novel, I’d be all in. But to read news that is both old and terrible to no end—because if the US government were ever to actively assert the rights of women anywhere, which it hasn’t, it sure as hell won’t be under the current administration—seems like a lot of grinding sorrow to no good purpose. 

Recommended to readers with strong stomachs that have no knowledge of how women in India are treated, with the caveats above.
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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.
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