Girls Burn Brighter

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 tw...

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Title:Girls Burn Brighter
Author:Shobha Rao
Rating:

Girls Burn Brighter Reviews

  • AnisaAnne

    You can also read my reviews on WP:

    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 servi

    You can also read my reviews on WP:

    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.

  • Janelle

    Thank you so much Flatiron Books for providing my free copy of GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER by Shobha Roa - all opinions are my own.

    Let me start by saying that this book will not make you feel good. It is heartrending with horrific scenes that will make you cringe. BUT it’s not meant to make you feel good, instead it paints a picture of the author’s very unique perspective. And what I love about this book is the strength of the two strong female protagonists that were born into a society that sees them m

    Thank you so much Flatiron Books for providing my free copy of GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER by Shobha Roa - all opinions are my own.

    Let me start by saying that this book will not make you feel good. It is heartrending with horrific scenes that will make you cringe. BUT it’s not meant to make you feel good, instead it paints a picture of the author’s very unique perspective. And what I love about this book is the strength of the two strong female protagonists that were born into a society that sees them more like property than human beings. It’s not beautiful or easy; it’s painful, raw, oppressive, and hopeless. However, it’s brilliantly told, beautifully written and it cuts right to the core.

    This is a story of two young girls, Poornima and Stavitha, living in an impoverished village in India. Stavitha is hired by Poornima’s father for work, which is how they first meet. They have an instant bond and friendship that helps them deal with the darkness they have to endure. One night, a very traumatic event happens to Stavitha which drives her away. This is where the book breaks off and is told in alternating perspectives, detailing the struggles of both very strong women who go through unimaginable things. This story and these names will forever be engraved in my mind, but I’m okay with that because it’s the very least I can do.

    GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER has vivid descriptions with great character development, and it reads at a quick pace. Of course I was repulsed and outraged by the deplorable, appalling acts of violence, however I value the author’s transparency about the girls’ journey. Rao does an exquisite job bringing said issues to the forefront and creates much needed, thought-provoking discussion. Even though the story is overwhelming and difficult to read, I was able to appreciate learning about the ordeal the girls experienced and their culture. Although the ending left me with more questions than answers, I feel it’s appropriate because it leaves me with hope. At least, that’s what I choose to believe.

    My rating is 4.5 / 5 stars!

  • Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader

    🔥 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

    Though desperately difficult to wrap my head around the tragic events that happened, this was a book I savored. I was emotionally invested and was lost in it completely.

    is why I read.

    After finishing Girls Burn Brighter, I immediately wished I could have the experience of reading it all over again. I don’t want to sugarcoat things either. What happens to Poornima and Savitha over the course of their young lives is nothing short of dar

    🔥 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟

    Though desperately difficult to wrap my head around the tragic events that happened, this was a book I savored. I was emotionally invested and was lost in it completely.

    is why I read.

    After finishing Girls Burn Brighter, I immediately wished I could have the experience of reading it all over again. I don’t want to sugarcoat things either. What happens to Poornima and Savitha over the course of their young lives is nothing short of dark, haunting, devastating, and heartbreaking.

    But at the heart of this story is the purest friendship between two girls joined by their craft of spinning cotton and growing up in a quiet village in India. Poornima and Savitha face many difficult times as their lives tumble apart: arranged marriages, dowries, suspicious in-laws, the horrors of human trafficking, and domestic abuse.

    The writing is stunning and filled with descriptions of the vivid landscapes contrasting with the heart-rending events these friends were subjected to - only because they were girls. The symbolism of fire: strength, vitality, resilience; Poornima and Savitha are filled with fire, and together, as friends, they do burn brighter. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget them.

    Thank you to debut author, Shobha Rao, I’m eagerly awaiting your next work, as well as Flatiron Books and Netgalley, for the copy.

  • Tori (InToriLex)

    Find this and other Reviews at

    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 physi

    Find this and other Reviews at

    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.

    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.

    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.

    -who want to be immersed in another culture

    -enjoy empowering stories about women

    -enjoy heart wrenching contemporaries

  • Emily May

    Finishing this book was so bittersweet. I both love and hate the ending.

    is a book about two young lives - that of Poornima and Savitha - and it takes us through a lot of tragic events. That being said, I didn't find it emotionally-manipulative. The author's storytelling is definitely evocative, but it is straightforward enough that the horrific events don't feel gratuitous, and the two women at the centre of the story are what burn brightest,

    Finishing this book was so bittersweet. I both love and hate the ending.

    is a book about two young lives - that of Poornima and Savitha - and it takes us through a lot of tragic events. That being said, I didn't find it emotionally-manipulative. The author's storytelling is definitely evocative, but it is straightforward enough that the horrific events don't feel gratuitous, and the two women at the centre of the story are what burn brightest, not the things that happen to them.

    Poornima and Savitha grow up in the poor weaver village of Indravalli, India. Friendship grows between the two girls as they bond over sari looms and yogurt rice mixed with bananas. Rao captures this simple, beautiful friendship between two poor girls so well; it is hard to imagine them apart. But then a horrible crime does tear them apart. Savitha disappears from the village and Poornima is destined to spend many years searching for her friend.

    Through heartbreak and illness, across years and continents, she never gives up.

    A lot happens throughout this novel. The young women are forced into arranged marriages and prostitution. Many men try to use them for their own gain and many also succeed. But behind all this is the tale of female friendship and it's enduring power. Behind everything else, the plot is driven by one young woman's desperate need to find her friend. I needed to know what happened. I needed Poornima to find Savitha.

    I won't give away any spoilers, but I will say that the ending is almost disappointing. I think, for some, it will be. And yet, it also seems perfect. I finished the last page unsure whether to smile or cry (I did a bit of both).

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  • paulie

    you well when you resume with yr beach reads. the more i became enveloped into

    's story the more i felt a hurt, a hurt whose kernal was this ignominious ember containing my ignorance, and to my disgust, most likely my indifference, indifference to my ken of those suffering who are not

    you well when you resume with yr beach reads. the more i became enveloped into

    's story the more i felt a hurt, a hurt whose kernal was this ignominious ember containing my ignorance, and to my disgust, most likely my indifference, indifference to my ken of those suffering who are not me. these two young ladies, hardly more than girls, even though their experiences should not be wished upon people twice their age, endured such levels of evil that discomfited me and would not let me look away because i know stories like these are real. trust me, i can't believe such evil exists as much as i know it does, and it took this book for me to reignite my fire to help do something about it.

    the title is referring to one's fire, that which sets ablaze yr will to defy what seems to be natural when confronted with one horrific predicament after another, extinguishing one's self. we meet poornima and savitha midway through their teenage yrs in indravalli, karnataka, india. poverty, destitution in spades - getting to put banana in yr rice was really having something to be grateful for, appreciate from life, their lives predominantly consisting of spending endless hrs on charkhas (looms) spinning cotton into fabric for simple saris. poornima's non-loving father (her mother died from cancer) is trying to get her into an arranged marriage, savitha (no relation) operated poornima's family's second charkha to increase sari production, thus increasing monetary opportunity/dowry. things go from bad to much, much worse when a repugnant incident occurs creating savitha to disappear.

    a quarter into the book we get third person perspective of both girls, though many consecutive chapters existed for each character before alternating. savitha ends up in the united states, though it is an immeasurable distance from land of the free, land of opportunity. poornima spends yrs trying to locate savitha, initially knowing nothing of her whereabouts. as i mentioned in an update, this book does not ease up on the sadness, the endless culmination of hopelessness while trying desperately to look for any sliver of hope: hope for living, this only being in reuniting with each other. the writing is limited, not in a minimalistic or sparse manner, in the sense these girls have, know so very little they do not even know there is something such as expansive, florid anything, let alone language. short of the three quarter mark we witness their fires growing stronger with what you

    call a

    bit of fortune (again, that still a huge stretch to say fortune), and then, bam, more awfulness on top of the exponential awfulness up to now! and then the last page worth of story had my heart immediate racing; my fears, my total investment in this tale swelled into an enormity of emotive uncertainty. i had to read it more than twice to grasp it, i was so afraid of it going in a certain direction i was in a combination of eyes glazing over with moisture and a feeling of dizziness, an archaic aspect of the vapours.

    .

  • Diane S ☔

    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

    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?

  • Donna

    This is a fictional story of two young women living in a small village in India, then in the US, who form a powerful friendship. It sustains them and fuels their spirit to survive, even when they are separated by a cruel betrayal and face all forms of oppression. And when one of them decides to finally take control of her life, in a world in which she has no control, she tries to reunite with her friend, no matter how far she must go to do it, both figuratively and literally.

    Hardship is nothing

    This is a fictional story of two young women living in a small village in India, then in the US, who form a powerful friendship. It sustains them and fuels their spirit to survive, even when they are separated by a cruel betrayal and face all forms of oppression. And when one of them decides to finally take control of her life, in a world in which she has no control, she tries to reunite with her friend, no matter how far she must go to do it, both figuratively and literally.

    Hardship is nothing new to either young woman, Poornima or Savitha, but what they will encounter in the pages of this book will test them—and the reader—like never before. Poornima is 16 when she meets Savitha who comes to work for Poornima’s father, sewing saris, after Poornima’s mother has recently died. Poornima is level-headed, but sometimes outspoken and rebellious, as well as dark-skinned, making her less desirable as a potential bride. Plus her unkind father hasn’t enough for a large dowry to make an ideal match for her, so she becomes a burden to him. Savitha is 17 and forthright, and has no chance at marriage since her family has no money at all for her dowry. But she’s ambitious about making money, not for herself, but to support her family and provide for her sisters’ dowries since her kind father is crippled and can no longer work.

    Poornima and Savitha slowly bond over their troubles, learning about one another and learning from one another when working as a team, side by side, Poornima spinning the thread that Savitha makes into beautiful saris they could never afford for themselves. In the private world of their friendship, they are important and equals, something they’ve never experienced in any other relationship in a world in which females are valued mainly for working in the household and for reproducing. In that male dominated society, what goes on inside their heads is less important than what what comes out of their mouths, as little words as possible preferred. So they find a refuge in one another, sharing their thoughts and dreams, and vow to always be together, no matter what life holds in store for them in the future. They never counted on what was to come, though, and the seemingly impossible obstacles they’d have to overcome to fulfill their vow.

    This story takes place in the late 1990’s and several years beyond. I’m not sure how representative the conditions were that these characters lived under, either in India or in the US, since the author didn’t clarify anything by including a preface or afterword addressing it, at least not in my ebook copy. So in my mind, what happened to both young women seemed very realistic, but over the top, at times, and I found myself detaching from what was happening, not knowing if the author was going overboard in trying to manipulate sympathy from the reader or if she was accurately reporting on the true extent of the powerlessness of women and how the power within them was the only thing that couldn’t be taken away from them. I only know for certain, it was not an easy book to read, and it became increasingly difficult to get through it, having to face unrelenting oppression and cruelty shown to not one, but two women, over the entire course of this book. The cruelty was both physically and mentally punishing and would have leveled most people. It went from a sad to depressing book, only small acts of kindness, some beautiful writing, and the strength and courage of these young women lifting it up. In a way, it reminded me of a better book that affected me more on an emotional level, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which was also difficult to read, but inspiring.

    The best parts of this book were at the beginning when Poornima and Savitha were together, learning strength and compassion from one another when few others in their lives showed any of it to them. It was a book I had hoped would move me, but it became heavy-handed and ultimately left me numb from the repeated indignities and abuse perpetrated on the young women by so many people, mostly men. At the 80% mark, I was more than ready for the book to end. Which brings me to the ending. I didn’t find it as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. The story was like a runner coming to the end of a long race and limping to the finish line, rather than sprinting through it in exhilaration.

    Still, I feel this is an important book for the truths it told among whatever might have been exaggerated for the sake of fiction. I have no doubt about the oppression of women under the conditions these characters suffered, and books like this bear witness to it in the hope for change. This would be a good book for book club discussions as long as people are prepared to endure it. Here are some of the passages that kept me reading, ones I found inspiring or thought provoking.

  • Rachel

    I really thought I was going to love

    . 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 the

    I really thought I was going to love

    . 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

    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

    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

    - 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

    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,

    .

    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

    .

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