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.

  • 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.

  • Elyse Walters

    Poor and poorer....

    Poornima - named after the moon -

    Savitha - named after the sun -

    are two of the most resilient - brave - and beautiful young girls - you’ll meet in any novel you’ll read. These girls meet in the village where they were born: in India.

    We learn about their families - and their families expectations of them.

    None of the parents talked shared about the ‘heartbeat-of-life’: the incredible richness - joys - intimacy - and deep satisfaction that friendship is to their souls. THAT..

    Poor and poorer....

    Poornima - named after the moon -

    Savitha - named after the sun -

    are two of the most resilient - brave - and beautiful young girls - you’ll meet in any novel you’ll read. These girls meet in the village where they were born: in India.

    We learn about their families - and their families expectations of them.

    None of the parents talked shared about the ‘heartbeat-of-life’: the incredible richness - joys - intimacy - and deep satisfaction that friendship is to their souls. THAT.....the girls discovered on their own - with each other. And ‘this’ is what gives them strength among horrific adversities. And ....in my opinion ‘their’ friendship isn’t completely pure- yet serves a vital purpose: their connection was rooted in desperation......which I don’t fault.

    When people say ....”this is not light reading”.... all they have to do is point to this book! There is no comic-relief! Our heart becomes dark fast.

    Each of the two protagonists - Poornima and Savitha encounter abominable hardship, pain, suffering, and injustice. Each endure devastating physical and psychological trauma. I don’t even want to compare which girls story was worse. I could - but that would make me rather ugly! SUFFERING & PAIN .....is SUFFERING & PAIN!

    The brutality of childhood like these girls experienced - is unimaginable- difficult to read - overwhelmingly tragic. It’s a book that would benefit being read with a group - examine & discuss.

    Centuries of female oppression - human trafficking- forced marriages - rape - slavery - degradation - abuse - sexism....still goes on - to some degree today. It’s sure amazing to witness the relentless torture & how these young women hold onto their inner dignity and spirit.

    The author Shobha Rao wrote a powerful debut. I was so invested in the characters - but then started to worry about the ending. I ‘did’ have mixed feelings about the ending.....

    however this book opens your eyes wide - and keeps them open through pages and pages of hot burning fires of heaviness.

    4.5

  • Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I heard about this book from The Readers, who are considering it for their summer read. I missed it when it came out in March.

    I loved this story about two female friends from the cloth-eaving area of India, who are separated and look for each other. The author made me really invested in the characters and I read it in one day.

  • 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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  • Nenia ✨ Queen of Literary Trash, Protector of Out-of-Print Gems, Khaleesi of Bodice Rippers, Mother of Smut, the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention ✨ Campbell

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    With social media being full of Bad Men Saying Stupid and Hurtful Shit, you're probably asking yourself why I'd read a book like this, which basically exemplifies female objectification at its worst, running the gamut of topics such as sex trafficking, sexual abuse and assault, forced marriage, colorism, mutilation, and other grim facets stemming from gender inequality.

    Well, because these issues are real issues - and with some people doing

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    With social media being full of Bad Men Saying Stupid and Hurtful Shit, you're probably asking yourself why I'd read a book like this, which basically exemplifies female objectification at its worst, running the gamut of topics such as sex trafficking, sexual abuse and assault, forced marriage, colorism, mutilation, and other grim facets stemming from gender inequality.

    Well, because these issues are real issues - and with some people doing their damnedest to silence the victims or others sweeping this unpleasantness under the carpet for being too unsavory, I think it's really important that these stories get heard. Because it's easier to ignore statistics than it is to ignore a visceral reaction.

    GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER is a work of fiction, but I imagine that it matches the stories of girls in India who are struggling to overcome racism, sexism, classism, and poverty. Poornima and Savitha are two Indian girls who end up becoming friends. Both of them are poor, although Savitha is poorer, but they are united in their strength and their anger.

    Over the course of the book, many, many,

    terrible things happen to these to girls. They end up separated, and bad quickly turns to worse. I actually posted a status update expressing my bewilderment at the awfulness of their situations, asking if it could get darker than it was - and yes, it did. I think the last book I read that disturbed me so much was Yaa Gyasi's

    .

    What I loved about this book was the beautiful writing and the slow burn of the girls' anger. Fire and burning is a leitmotif in this novel, which you might guess from the title: sexual awakening, rage, actual fire (or physical sensations approximating it), and fear. Poornima and Savitha are constantly burning, and it is this flame that keeps them going even when everything seems lost, in their goal to find one another and escape their horrible situations, no matter what it takes.

    4 to 4.5 stars

  • 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?

  • Maggie

    Literary fiction is not the common genre I go for. It has been, though, a genre I have grown quite interested in because it is very different from contemporary or the common kind of books I read. I thought of reading something that makes you realize and analyze something so important, like this.

    Literary fiction is not the common genre I go for. It has been, though, a genre I have grown quite interested in because it is very different from contemporary or the common kind of books I read. I thought of reading something that makes you realize and analyze something so important, like this.

    Savitha and Poornima are two girls who live in Indravalli, India. While Poornima loses her mother, Savitha has to take care of her family along with her siblings in order to be quite stable. Poornima's father, who has always been cruel and wicked, silently, with Poornima, hires Savitha to help him work which is how Poornima and Savitha form a strong and beautiful friendship which then leads to Poornima regaining her hope in faith in life. They have such different lives but their friendship grows in a developing way with yogurt rice, bananas, indigo cloth, and the realization that life is beautiful. As the two girls try their best to always stick together, Poornima is being arranged for a forced marriage arranged by her father without giving her permission to say a word about it of complaint or rejection. Savitha, on the other hand, is taken away from one night to day without anyone noticing, leaving the city, leaving Poornima alone. We are then taken two 2 different journeys, the journey of Savitha finding herself in a different town and the journey of Poornima looking for her friend.

    which are some of the big themes portrayed in the book. I hadn't read that part of the description before, so I was surprised when those scenes came up. It was pretty hard for me to read those parts because I hadn't done so before. The book is tragic, its beautiful, its powerful, and it is sad. It makes you open your eyes and see things; makes you realize

    When I first started this, I was completely hooked in. One of the problems I was encountering was the writing. Rao does a fantastic job keeping you hooked, but the problem was the writing itself; the way Rao wrote what characters said and thought always kept confusing me. That was really the only problem I had (until the end) and, luckily, not something that completely bothered me. I kept trying to figure out if it was a quote from someone or just a thought, but I kept ignoring the thought of it distracting me.

    Sexual violence,

    are big topics on this one along with

    You can really cringe when reading the parts of the brutal acts because of how Rao describes it, how she writes it. I kept feeling bad for the characters and couldn't imagine what kind of hard life it must be for Savitha and Poornima as two Indians were mistreated for being girls, were taken as property, as slaves, as toys, as something to use. I felt grief for them and wished I could just take them away from the horrible life they were living.

    There was nothing I didn't like about Savitha and Poornima. I thought they were strong female characters and I think the author wrote a great job about feminism on this one. There are no female rights and no woman is treated right and just, but Poornima and Savitha really did not let that stop them. When Savitha and Poornima are separated, Poornima does not give up on looking for her friend. She also does not give up on her usage as a woman. She's forced to marry a man she had never met, a man she was grossed out when she saw his problem. He was also a wicked man who treated her like garbage along with his mother, Poornima's mother in law. Everyone treated Poornima like garbage and she did not give up on her faith and hope of life and finding her friend. I think Rao managed to capture my attention, especially from her perspective. The way she handled the friendship between the two was beautiful to read, although, yes, tragic.

    I said there was nothing I didn't like about the main characters, but I guess I should clarify.

    The two were inseparable, together they were loyal, fierce, strong, unafraid, but separated, they were weaker. One thing that bothered me about Savitha was that she was not like Poornima. She did not end up going on a journey looking for her friend, her friend who was like another soul for her. I mean, the two slept together in the same bed, told each other stories, shared each other's experiences with different kinds of foods the other hadn't tried. They taught each other how to be strong and how to get along with life without letting men get to you. Savitha was also a heartbreaking character to read about and follow along on her journey, but I felt like she gave up on Poornima and focused on herself and the people she had met.

    I’ll say this: I am not a feminist. I do believe women should have equal rights and such, but I would not call myself a feminist. I have no experience with the life of a feminism or the world of feminism and women's rights. With that being said, though, I do think Shobha Rao managed to engross me into the topic. I think the whole idea of girl friendship and girl power can be so beautiful and strong together when it is written and portrayed correctly. I enjoyed the concept of it and enjoyed how the beginning of the book was about that. The book though, is not all about feminism, but the elements are always there. The thoughts of Poornima and Savitha wishing to be treated equally hurts to read because they themselves no they’re treated miserably and unequally. They couldn’t do some things they wanted to.

    Like previously stated, the book isn’t all about feminism.

    The feminist elements are the kinds when they don’t let go of each other, when they help each other, when they’re together and love each other, when they defend each other and embrace each other.

    The theme didn't slack off, not until after, but I think its still important to realize that sometimes, not everything is about love between a person and another person. Sometimes, in life, you need something less than that or much more than that. Rao can convince you to think that sometimes, life is about finding hope in someone else. Poornima found hope in Savitha, thought of her life like her own, thought of her like the person she couldn't let go of. It hurt to see them separated after what happened the night before.

    The strong topics in this book can really get to you. Domestic violence (Poornima is forced to marry and her husband is an abusive partner), sexual violence (such as rape and general abuse), human trafficking, immigration, poverty, conflict, they're all topics that sometimes we need to read about in order to open our eyes and look out to the world and see that most of these are issues going on around the world and have been going around. Sometimes instead of romance, you need friendship. Sometimes instead of finding hope, you lose it. Sometimes instead of loving life, you hate it.

    Sometimes you think selling your body or a piece of you is the only way to enter life happily.

    The ending is what really threw me off. This was gonna be a solid 5 stars (no joke) even with the writing problem I encountered throughout the whole book and the problem I found with Savitha towards the middle, but the ending made it go downhill. It was not beautiful, it was actually a cliffhanger! One thing I hate about books and authors is how they end up finishing a standalone book with a cliffhanger. I really want to know what happens next but the only way to find out would be to ask the author herself or really, forget about the ending. I know literary fiction is more about paying more attention to what the book is trying to offer, but when you're given an ending like this one, you can't help but wonder what exactly

    The book is definitely something worth reading. It can take you through the hardships of being an Indian girl living in poverty and domestic violence. You can't feel anything for the characters except madness or empathy. You feel pity, sympathy, compassion, grief, sorrow, really, any emotion, and they're either happy or sad emotions and feelings.

  • 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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