Girls Burn Brighterby Published 06 Mar 2018
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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.
"Girls Burn Brighter" Reviews
I really thought I was going to love Girls Burn Brighter. The novel starts out with a short prologue about an old woman being interviewed by a journalist about her garden of trees. In only two pages, it was lovely, touching, and hard-hitting, everything that I hoped the rest of the book was going to be.
The story then begins with two girls, Poornima and Savitha, who become fast friends in their adolescence, who work together for Poornima's father, weaving saris. Tragic circumstances soon pull them apart, and they spend the rest of the book searching for one another.
This book is brutal. That in itself is not something that turns me off. I mean, you know me - the darker the better is pretty much my unofficial motto. What began to grate on me was how gratuitous and pointless so much of this brutality was. Shobha Rao makes her point early on. Girls - particularly in India - are given an absolutely terrible lot in life. This book is a celebration of that female-specific resilience, and that's what attracted me to this book to begin with. But there is just no end to the suffering Poornima and Savitha go through, for absolutely no narrative reason. It's hard to talk about this without giving specific examples, but basically, it started to feel like torture porn after a while.
Keep in mind that one of my favorite books of all time is A Little Life - if you look at the negative reviews of that, of which there are many, 'torture porn' is a phrase that you will see crop up quite a bit. But I absolutely object to that, because not only does the heightened pathos of that narrative fit the quasi-surrealist tone of the novel, but Hanya Yanagihara has something to say about the extreme suffering and trauma that those characters go through. In contrast, I wouldn't say that Shobha Rao has nothing to say - just that she says it, very early on, and then doesn't add anything else. This isn't helped by the fact that the book also begins to take on a very monotonous, telling-instead-of-showing tone. "This happened to Savitha. Then this happened. Then Savitha did this. Then she went here. Then she went there. Then this happened." That was pretty much the entire second half of this book. It's just like, at a certain point, we get it.
This review is turning out a lot more negative than I had intended. I was actually planning on giving this three stars at first. It's readable, educational about Indian culture, and I genuinely cared about Poornima and Savitha. But the amount of suffering these characters went through was so excessive it eventually deadened my emotional reaction, which was obviously the opposite effect from what the author had intended. I think this book has important things to say - I just wish it had undergone more rigorous editing, and adhered to the tried and true adage less is more.
Thank you to Flatiron Books and Shobha Rao for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.
You can also read my reviews on WP: https://anisabookreviews.wordpress.co...
Girls Burn Brighter is a compelling tale of love, friendship, and self-exploration. But mostly survival. It is the heart-wrenching story of being a girl in India and the possibilities beyond a fate.
Her name, Poornima is a constant reminder of what she is not. She is not a source of income, an economic burden to her family. She is not a boy. At sixteen, with the loss of her mother, Poornima is relegated to domestic servitude to care about her four other siblings and father. She is destined to be married off at sixteen. But she yearns always to find a more significant meaning of life, beyond her gender. That is when she meets her. "She'd never known a hand could do that; contain so much purpose."
Savitha, named after the eclipse carries a persistent fierce light in her spirit. The lack of food in the pots has forced this teenager to find work for her family. He father is a drunk and begs at the temple for food and money. Savitha has sat at a loom before; she knows how to weave threads, and this is where the start of a bright friendship begins.
Poornima and her father have two looms, a place where saris and income for family life take place. Since her mother's death, the loom sits bare, until one-day Savitha appears. There is something different about Savitha. Is it her conviction? Or her purpose?
Two more different teenagers will forge an unbreakable bond, even when life casts them unthinkable sorrow.
The setting is Indravalli, near Andhra Pradesh in India. Rao takes us on a journey of lush mountains graced with sacred temples. An experience rich in Hindu traditions such as burning lights on holy mountains, ceremonial garlands of marigolds, and sagely sadhus performing pujas. As these images are stunning, there is another side to India that is less romantic. Poverty, huts clung together by cow dung, landscaped by old scraps of food, hands tiring from begging, caste systems, and dark history of exploitation. Such poverty lines the vibrant greens of rice fields and mountains.
Beautifully written novel. Analogies are eloquently described providing rich prose. Poornima and Savith are skillfully developed characters with their personalities unfolding with grace. Poornima's mother, a recent memory is so vividly, and you can feel her presence, her love, her embrace. And you can see also taste the pain and humiliation that only comes by being born female in a country that discards women with a simple push.
Girls Burn Brighter book is my first reading experience with the author Shobha Rao. My travels to South India has undoubtedly played a role in my enjoyment of the story and setting, but it is not essential. I am excited to discover more of Rao's writing.
Thank you, Flatiron Books for the ARC in exchange for my honest review.
You know that moment when a books message finally clicks and you’re just left wondering how you’ll ever be the same after hearing it? Yeah, I’m in that boat right now. I knew Girls Burn Brighter would be a five star read even before I read it. The cover just screams read me and remain forever changed. Read it and see how your eyes become wide open. Here I am, an American woman, reading about how women from other countries get treated so terribly. Not that being a woman in today’s world, in America no less, is better. Women from other countries are treated like second-class citizens, lower than the dirt beneath your feet. It’s disheartening. That’s why as women of the free world, we speak up for those who don’t have a voice.
In Girls Burn Brighter, we follow the lives of two very special girls who turn into women before they're ready. Poornima’s been living her life on autopilot ever since she lost her mother. Then Savitha walks in and changes everything. The two become the best of friends and confidants. One night tragedy strikes Savitha, leaving her broken beyond repair. There’s only one thing for her to do—run. Run away and never look back. Meanwhile, Poornima is going through her own trials. It’s been trouble finding her a suitable husband to marry. None of them want her. Until one comes along that demands a huge dowry and costs Poornima more than just a hefty sum to keep her.
We follow Poornima and Savitha on a separate journeys that are full of blood, sweat, and tears. But they go on. Want to know why? Because they are strong beyond compare. They’ve looked adversity in the face and said, “No! Not today!”. This was a powerful read that features women we need to look up to in order to fight back. We are here and we won’t back down. Last, I want to tell you the message that has stayed with me ever since I let go of the last page. But if I were to tell you, then you wouldn’t be able to see the beauty of the story when you read it. So I leave you with this, pick up the book and prepared to be wowed.
*Thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with a copy for an honest and unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I received a free copy of Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao in a Goodreads give away in exchange for an honest review. In the book, Girls Burn Brighter, the reader is transported to India where two young, poor girls Poornima and Savitha cross paths and form a bond that is tested but becomes stronger as the years continued. They grew up in a culture where girls were looked down upon as inferior to men. Poornima lost her mother when she was quite young. She now existed to serve her father's demands, take care of her siblings and wait until a suitable match was made for her and her father could marry her off in an arranged marriage and end his responsibility to her. This was the way..she never questioned it. Then Savitha began working for her father. Savitha saw life differently from Poornima. Savitha was an independent minded girl and decided she had choices. The two girls became the best of friends and truly loved one another. Then because of a horrific incident Savitha was forced to leave her family, village and trusted friend. She was left with no other choice but to run away. Shortly after, Poornima was married off. She also experienced unimaginable acts of cruelty and she also ran away to escape her arranged marriage. Poornima, determined to find Savitha traveled into India's underworld and eventually to Seattle.
This was a very moving book. My heart broke for these two girls and all that they had to endure. I highly recommend this book.
...all the beacons of the world, standing all in a row, couldn't save her' - Savitha, Girls Burn Brighter
Obliterated. Broken. Despaired. Angry. Despondent. Heartbroken. Helpless. Hopeful. Wretched. Dejected. Lost. Furious. Disappointed. Hopeless.
These are all the words I would use to describe the way I felt during and after this read. Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao broke my spirit and crushed all hope. This is a story of two girls turned young women that begin their lives in India. We meet Poornima and Savitha in Indravalli and follow along as they become the best of friends and furthermore the victims of their circumstances. The book is broken down into multiple sections which I liked. In fact, I needed those breaks. My heart and my mind needed those points of pause, as I read and digested the lives of these two girls that I immediately fell in love with. We begin with the section that introduces us to Poornima and Savitha as well as where they live, Indravalli. As the girls get slightly older and their lives evolve (quickly) we are then given separate sections for each of their lives. The characters, Poornima and Savitha, are richly developed and so lovable. Their spirits, their fire, their fierceness rubbed off on me in a way I wasn't expecting or prepared for.
Despite my love for these girls and this book literally giving me All. The. Feels. This is a tough read. This is one that you want to be prepared for going in. If you are looking for a heavy read that is off the charts empathy wise, this will definitely fit that bill. There are multiple difficult situations in this book and while the majority of them aren't gratuitous, you never feel as though the bleeding stops. Hope rises up from the ashes and you try to grab it before it's gone, but you can't.
Know that there is no rainbow after the tsunami.
The ending left me wanting more. I. NEED. More. Is there a sequel? I don't know, but my mind wants to know what's next even though my heart isn't sure it can handle what might be next.
This novel might be a work of fiction but the horrors found between the covers are a cruel reality for many women. If you desire learning about other parts of the world from marginalized voices this book is exactly what you are looking for. Stamp your reading passport with this tale from India that will obliterate your heart. This book changed me. I am not the same woman I was before I read it.
'We were once children, she thought; we were once little girls. We once played in the dirt under the shade of a tree.' -Savitha, Girls Burn Brighter
I feel almost guilty suggesting you read this book knowing what you will be put through. I was fortunate to buddy read this along with two fellow book lovers, Stacey and Megan. I am so thankful I read this as part of a group. We all needed to talk about this book and how it made us feel. I highly recommend reading this with a buddy or with your book club, as opposed to reading it alone.
Thank you to Flatiron Books for sending me this free copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts and opinions are my own.