Summary and book reviews of Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter

by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao X
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
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  • Published:
    Mar 2018, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Symes

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About this Book

Book Summary

A searing, electrifying debut novel set in India and America, for readers of Rupi Kaur, about the extraordinary bond between two girls driven apart by circumstances but relentless in their search for one another.

Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them. They are poor. They are driven. And they are girls.

When Poornima was just a toddler, she was about to fall into a river. Her mother, beside herself, screamed at her father to grab her. But he hesitated: "I was standing there, and I was thinking…She's just a girl. Let her go…That's the thing with girls, isn't it…You think, Push. That's all it would take. Just one little push."

After her mother's death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to take care of her siblings until her father can find her a suitable match. So when Savitha enters their household, Poornima is intrigued by the joyful, independent-minded girl. 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 secure for her. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend.

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 ruthless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within them.


Poornima never once noticed the door of the temple. Neither did Savitha. But the temple watched them closely, perched as it was on the mountain that towered over Indravalli. The village itself was near the banks of the Krishna River, a hundred or so kilometers inland from the Bay of Bengal. Though it was situated in a level valley, the hamlet was shadowed by one of the largest mountains in Andhra Pradesh, called Indravalli Konda, with the temple halfway up its eastern face. It was painted a brilliant white and looked to Savitha like a big boll of cotton. To Poornima, the temple looked like the full moon, perpetually embraced by the sky and the branches of the surrounding trees.

Poornima was ten years old when she stood outside her family's hut, staring at the temple; she turned to her father, who was seated on the hemp-rope cot behind her, and asked, "Why did you and Amma name me after the full moon?" Her mother was sitting at the loom, working, so Poornima didn't want to ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the novel's title. What does it mean to you? How is the experience of being a girl portrayed here? Did you find it eye-opening?
  2. Why do you think the author chose to begin with the story about the old woman and the temple doors? What tone does that set for the rest of the novel?
  3. How is friendship depicted in these pages? Why do you think Poornima and Savitha are so drawn to each other? What qualities do they share, and what qualities distinguish each of them? Do they change over the course of the novel?
  4. Savitha tells Poornima about encountering an owl on the road in Indravalli. The owl tells Savitha, "If two people want to be together, they'll find a way. They'll forge a way. It may seem ludicrous, even stupid, to...
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BookBrowse Review


Girls Burn Brighter is an extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them, who nevertheless find a way to control and shape their own destiny. With vivid language and breathtaking sincerity, Shobha Rao weaves together the lives of Poornima and Savitha, pitting the two girls' friendship against the world, and proving that power can be taken—as well as granted.   (Reviewed by Grace Symes).

Media Reviews

Ms. Magazine

Rao layers her debut novel with issues that face many young women worldwide, from street harassment and domestic abuse to oppressive societal norms.

Brit + Co

This debut novel is the perfect read for fans of Rupi Kaur.

The Chicago Review of Books

A confident debut novel set in India and America about the unbreakable bond between two girls. From the menacing nooks of India's underworld to the streets of Seattle, this searing novel traces the nuances of adulthood and the enduring power of childhood bonds.

Publishers Weekly

Vivid depictions of contemporary Indian culture and harrowing accounts of human trafficking - along with the novel's ambiguous ending - will leave readers, and book clubs, with much to ponder and discuss.


Starred Review. This powerful, heart-wrenching novel and its two unforgettable heroines offer an extraordinary example of the strength that can be summoned in even the most terrible situations.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Highly recommended for book discussion groups, this tale of sacrifice, exploitation, and reclamation is not to be missed.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Enchanting…An incisive study of a friendship's unbreakable bond.

Author Blurb Claire Cameron, author of The Bear and The Last Neanderthal
This novel burnt up my weekend. With beautiful language, warm friendships, and vivid images, once I started reading I could not stop. It’s a story of struggle and survival. Female friendship is the lifeline.

Author Blurb Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao blew my heart up. Heart-shards everywhere. I am in awe of the warmth and humanity in this book, even as it explores some incredibly dark places.

Reader Reviews


a gut wrenching read
Being born a girl, and into a poor Indian caste, is the unfortunate fate of two girls who meet when Poornima's father hires Savitha to help weave saris after the death of his wife. With Savitha, Poornima finds a love and sisterly bond that totally ...   Read More

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