Review: Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

March 6, 2018
Girls Burn Brighter, Shobha Ra, Book Review, InToriLex
Published By: Flatiron Books on March 6, 2018
Format Read: ARC Edition (306 pages)
Genre: Contemporary/ Adult Fiction/ India
Series: Stand Alone
Source: Giveaway Win
Girls Burn Brighter
A searing, electrifying debut novel set in India and America, about a once-in-a-lifetime friendship between two girls who are driven apart but never stop trying to find one another again.

When Poornima first meets Savitha, she feels something she thought she lost for good when her mother died: hope. Poornima's father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, and the two girls are quickly drawn to one another. Savitha is even more impoverished than Poornima, but she is full of passion and energy. She shows Poornima how to find beauty in a bolt of indigo cloth, a bowl of yogurt rice and bananas, the warmth of friendship. Suddenly their Indian village doesn't feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond the arranged marriage her father is desperate to lock down for her. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend again. 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 relentless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within them.

In breathtaking prose, Shobha Rao tackles the most urgent issues facing women today: domestic abuse, human trafficking, immigration, and feminism. At once a propulsive page-turner and a heart-wrenching meditation on friendship, Rao's debut novel is a literary tour de force.


Content Warning:
Rape, Physical & Sexual Abuse


This book broke my heart into crumbs and I'm still sweeping pieces of it off the ground. Poornima and Savitha find ways to hold onto each other in a country that considers their existence a burden.They are both born poor and given few opportunities. In India a girls humanity is measured by her utility. Despite this Poornima and Savitha build their friendship on trust and awe. Their love for each other empowers them to keep going, even when they are physically distant and mentally fleeting. Passages of this book felt like kicks in the rib. But I read through all of the heartache eagerly because of the gorgeous writing unforgettable characters.
"But what about love?"
"What is love, Poori?" Savitha said. What is love if not a hunger?
Though the alternating perspectives both women gave me intimate access into their hearts, this kind of character development is magic. The women in this book experience every kind of cruel and harsh  abuse. Their experiences aren't deserved but it's important that readers understand that this happens all the time. Through prisms of poverty I was led into desperate lives, that so many of us forget exist. This book challenges us to look at what women are able to endure and find the beauty in their journey.
"What it wanted was to reveal to me that there is no end to guilt, no end to the prices we pay, that we are the forest, and our conscience, our hell, is the forest floor."
I finished this book in emotional ruin. I learned about India, poverty and friendship in a way that will stay with me for a long time. Savitha and Poornima burn bright with the kind of love and hope that I want to carry in myself. This is a bleak book but the harshness allowed the reader to cut through any self delusion. The only reason this isn't a five star book for me is because everything wasn't quite pulled together in the end,  the way I would have preferred. Nonetheless I am excited to read more from this author and be inspired by what other stories she has to share.
"What fools we all are. We girls. Afraid of the wrong things, at the wrong times."
Recommended for Readers:
-who want to be immersed in another culture
-enjoy empowering stories about women
-enjoy heart wrenching contemporaries


SHOBHA RAO moved to the United States from India at the age of seven. She is the winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, and her story “Kavitha and Mustafa” was chosen by T.C. Boyle for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2015. She is the author of the short story collection, AN UNRESTORED WOMAN, and the novel, GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER. She lives in San Francisco.

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