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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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2019, 400 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.

1

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...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about Girls Burn Brighter.
You can see the full discussion here.


Are there examples in Poornima's story when she does take what she isn't supposed to? How does she exercise control over her own life?
From birth Poornima is marinated in a sauce that leaves her believing that she is entitled to nothing, not even her own life. I wept at her father’s admission that he could have as easily killed her as save her when she was a toddler. So as soon as ... - donnac

Did Poornima's and Savitha's stories change the way you think about issues such as rape, domestic violence, prostitution, sex trafficking, and abuse?
Yes, reading the book did change my thinking about sex trafficking and other such offenses because of the scene when one of the girls agreed to the amputation of her arm. I cannot imagine agreeing to such a horrific act in any situation; however, the... - judyg

Did you find the novel's ultimate message to be at all optimistic or hopeful? Why or why not?
In the end, I found hope and optimism because they were reuniting, or at least I am assuming the reunited. So, I had hope. It was a difficult read with all the tragic things these girls went through. - JulieAB

Discuss the owl's words. What does this novel have to say about willpower versus fate or coincidence?
Perhaps the acceptance of fate is showcased as a cultural value. India as reflected in this novel has several restrictions based on birth that become restrictive on the life a person can live. All cultures have these so ingrained that many people ... - paulagb

Do you think Poornima and Savitha are "swallowed whole" by their experiences? Why or why not?
I think Savitha was almost swallowed whole with her being rape again but this time in America. When Savitha was in the bathroom, the toilet sounds brought her some comfort like it did before. I wonder is that part of the reason she stayed in the ... - alwaysdaddygirl

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

Full Review (507 words).

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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.

Booklist
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

renem

Unforgetable
I have read novels in the past that were about India, it's people, and all it's complexity, but never have I read one that touched my heart as much as this debut novel by Shobha Rao. Girls Burn Brighter is a tragic story that pulls at your heart-...   Read More

Celia Phillips

Sad but True
Two girls in India become friends. They hope that if they can depend on each other that each can rise above the poverty and discrimination. In this story it does not happen. The girls are wrenched from each other and both endure horrible mistreatment...   Read More

lani

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

Robin B

Girls Burn Brighter
I enjoyed the book until the end where I felt the book ended abruptly and without some type of closure. The book appeared to have a very diminutive end after such a long and arduous journey. I was disappointed because I felt there had been such a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Charkha

In Girls Burn Brighter, the charkha, a kind of spinning wheel, is a means of self-sufficiency and independence for Poornima and Savitha. Savitha carries the scraps of the sari she made for Poornima across the world, as a reminder of the simple happiness the two girls found when weaving together.

The charkha is one of the oldest known forms of the spinning wheel, originating in India between 500 and 1000 CE. It replaced the previous method of hand-spinning with a spindle. With the invention of the charkha, the spindle could be rotated by a large wheel turned by hand, resulting in spun yarn that could then be wound on to the spindle. The charkha was often a woman's only source of livelihood, allowing her to work from home and look after ...

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