Shobha Rao shows the strength and importance of female friendships in ‘Girls Burn Brighter’

Title: Girls Burn Brighter 
Author: Shobha Rao
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 304 pages
Available: 6 March 2018


“Understand this, Poornima: that it’s better to be swallowed whole than in pieces. Only then can you win. No elephant can be too big. Only then no elephant can do you harm.”
— loc. 608

GirlsBurnBrighter_3rdpass_KG_inprogress.inddPoornima and Savitha could not be more opposite. Both living in the village of Indravalli in South India, they come from different circumstances but soon find friendship after Poornima’s father hires Savitha to make saris. Poornima, whose name means moon in Telugu, is quiet and obedient. Savitha, whose name means sun, is strong, independent, and the mother figure Poornima desperately longs for. This longing for connection goes deep for Poornima and soon begins to change who she is and becomes the catalyst for horrific crimes that fall on both girls. Crimes that send the girls to opposite ends of the world.

Uneducated, illiterate, and navigating a world that is hostile towards women, Poornima and Savitha do what they can to try and get back to each other. Poornima’s faith that she will find her friend again pushes her to change her circumstances. Savitha’s unwillingness to let herself be defeated gives her the strength to fight against the abusive and inhumane situation she finds herself in despite being in the United States. Not only does Rao paint a picture of what it’s like to grow up poor in South India, where the caste system dictates everything, she also uncovers the dark corners of the United States where circumstances for women are not much better.

“And infernos. Infernos as wide as the world. Waiting to impoverish you, make you ash, and even the wind, even the wind. Even the wind, my dear, she thought, watching you burn, willing it, passing over you, and through you. Scattering you, because you are a girl, and because you are ash.”
— loc. 3221

Alternating from Poornima’s and Savitha’s points of view, Girls Burn Brighter is a feminist story studying the importance of female friendships. Not only is this story heartwrenching and horrific, but there is a sliver of hope that weaves throughout both points of view: hope that they will be reunited, that their circumstances will change, that they can alter their futures after all.

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