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Girls Burn Brighter

A Novel

Shobha Rao

Paperback

List Price: 17.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (3/5/2018)
Library Binding, Large Print (5/2/2018)
Hardcover (3/6/2018)

Description

Best Book of the Year: The Washington Post, NPR, Shelf Awareness, Paste, LitHub, Real Simple
2018 Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist: Best Fiction
Longlisted for the 2018 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize

“Incandescent...A searing portrait of what feminism looks like in much of the world.” —Vogue

“A treat for Ferrante fans, exploring the bonds of friendship and how female ambition beats against the strictures of poverty and patriarchal societies.” —The Huffington Post

An electrifying debut novel about the extraordinary bond between two girls driven apart by circumstance but relentless in their search for one another.

Poornima and Savitha have three strikes against them: they are poor, they are ambitious, and they are girls. After her mother’s death, Poornima has very little kindness in her life. She is left to care for 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 arranged marriage. 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, Shobha Rao's Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within.



Praise For Girls Burn Brighter: A Novel

One of the Best Books of 2018 – So Far (PopSugar)

One of the Best Books of the Month (Harper’s Bazaar, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, Vulture, PureWow, Paste, Book Riot, Signature Reads, and The Chicago Review of Books)

A Most Anticipated Book of 2018 (Goodreads, Bustle, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, BookRiot, PopSugar, The Chicago Review of Books, Ms. Magazine, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

“The debut novelist who has everyone talking this spring....The blurb on the cover of Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter uses a very particular and descriptive phrase by fellow author Charlie Jane Anders to describe what happens after reading the book: ‘Heart shards everywhere.’ If truer words have ever been spoken about the way a novel made us feel, we’d be hard-pressed to find them.” Entertainment Weekly

“Engrossing…The pages keep turning, the language is lyrical and lovely, and many phrases call for pause and appreciation…Rao is a capable and confident writer, able to handle a vast and ambitious story line.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Skillfully rendered…. What’s most memorable about the novel, however, is the unadulterated, feminist voice.” San Francisco Chronicle

“Shobha Rao writes cleanly and eloquently about women who, without their brightness, might have been left to die in their beds. She writes them into life, into existence, into the light of day.” Los Angeles Times

“Incandescent...A searing portrait of what feminism looks like in much of the world.” Vogue

“An incredibly raw and compelling story about two young girls who forge a strong bond while weaving saris in a small Indian village plagued by sexism and misogyny.” InStyle

“Unforgettable.” —Lit Hub

“This debut novel is a compelling story of unbreakable friendship...” —Real Simple

“A devastating debut, Girls Burn Brighter is a testament to the strength of female friendship…. Shobha Rao astounds in her debut novel, not just with stunning prose, but with mastery of pacing, too. In Rao’s hands the heavy, unrelenting subject matter, which might otherwise have been shattering for its raw honesty, is fluid and propulsive.” —Shelf Awareness

“Burns with intensity…Rao…is clearly a writer of great ambition.” —USA Today

“A definite must-read for readers who love authors like Nadia Hashimi and Khaled Hosseini.” —Bustle

“A treat for Ferrante fans, exploring the bonds of friendship and how female ambition beats against the strictures of poverty and patriarchal societies.” —The Huffington Post

“An unbelievably beautiful and harrowing story of friendship and devotion.” —Book Riot

“Harrowing and beautiful.... Trust us—your book club will want to know Rao's name.” —BookPage

“A beautiful testament to female friendship.” —PopSugar

“The book has enormous emotional power and a compelling narrative that will carry the reader through to its unsettling conclusion.... The novel is a powerful testament to how something as seemingly small as a private friendship between two girls can be a tool to resist oppression.” —Dallas Morning News

Girls Burn Brighter is the kind of book you open and fall into…Rao’s debut is a high achievement.” —KQED, San Francisco

Girls Burn Brighter is an absolutely stunning debut novel from an author you’ll want to follow for years to come.” —Paste

“This debut novel is the perfect read for fans of Rupi Kaur.” —Brit + Co

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

“The two fierce young women draw you in with their resilience and hope, and their enduring bond will both inspire and break readers’ hearts.” —Apartment Therapy

“Unshakeable…the power and anguish in Rao’s novel builds, breaking your heart on one page even as it mends it, stronger, on the next.” —Omnivoracious

“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.” The Chicago Review of Books

“Enchanting… The resplendent prose captures the nuances and intensity of two best friends on the brink of an uncertain and precarious adulthood… An incisive study of a friendship’s unbreakable bond.” Kirkus Reviews, 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.” Booklist, starred review

“Highly recommended for book discussion groups, this tale of sacrifice, exploitation, and reclamation is not to be missed.” Library Journal, starred review

“Stirring…affecting…The narrative’s thematic consistency and emotional urgency will pull readers along.” —Publishers Weekly

“Rao writes exquisite sentences…By the end of Girls Burn Brighter, Poornima and Savitha earn their places in the hearts of readers.” Woodbury Magazine

“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.” —Claire Cameron, author of The Bear and The Last Neanderthal

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. I’m going to be thinking about Girls Burn Brighter for a while, and you’re going to be hearing a lot about it.” —Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky

Flatiron Books, 9781250309501, 416pp.

Publication Date: March 5, 2019



About the Author

SHOBHA RAO moved to the U.S. from India at the age of seven. She is the winner of the 2014 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, awarded by Nimrod International Journal. She has been a resident at Hedgebrook and is the recipient of the Elizabeth George Foundation fellowship. Her story "Kavitha and Mustafa" was chosen by T.C. Boyle for inclusion in the Best American Short Stories 2015. She lives in San Francisco. An Unrestored Woman is her debut.


Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

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 work so hard at something that is, truly, a matter of chance, completely arbitrary, such as staying with someone—as if ‘with’ and ‘apart’ have meaning in and of themselves—but, the owl said. . . but that’s the thing with you humans. You think too much, don’t you?” Discuss the owl’s words. What does this novel have to say about willpower versus fate or coincidence?


5. Poornima and Savitha have very different relationships with their fathers. How do those relationships shape their childhoods and their worldviews? Do you feel any sympathy or understanding toward Poornima’s father?


6. Savitha’s last words to Poornima are“I’m the one with wings.” What do you think she means by that? How are bird and flight imagery used throughout the novel?


7. On her wedding night, Poornima remembers a story from childhood, when she stole a candy and her mother told her to never take what isn’t hers. She reflects,“Don’t you see, Amma, if only I had taken the things I wasn’t meant to take. If only I’d had the courage.” Are there examples after this moment in her story when she does take what she isn’t supposed to? How does she exercise control over her own life?


8. In her husband’s house, after she has been terribly burned, Poornima imagines the banks of the Krishna river: “When she closed her eyes, there were the saris drying on the opposite shore. Every color, fluttering in the river breeze, fields of wildflowers.” Saris and weaving play an important role throughout the novel. What do they represent for Poornima and Savitha? Why does Savitha guard the fragment of cloth from Poornima’s sari so closely?


9. Discuss Savitha’s thoughts on bananas:“Yogurt rice with a banana was like life, simple, straightforward, with a beginning and an end, while the other—the banana split—was like death, complex, infused with a kind of mystery that was beyond Savitha’s comprehension, and every bite, like every death, dumbfounding.” Do you think her views on life and death make her more resilient and able to face adversity?


10. Savitha tells Poornima a story about a crow and an elephant, which Poornima thinks about often as she is searching for her friend. Savitha says,“Here’s what matters. 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.” What do you think she means? Do you think Poornima and Savitha are swallowed whole by their experiences? Why or why not?


11. Savitha and Poornima both have complicated relationships with Mohan. Why do you think they are both drawn to him? Do you find him sympathetic?


12. Poornima finds a collection of poetry in Mohan’s coat, and reads the most dog-eared page, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” When she discusses the poem with Mohan, he claims“it’s about the struggle to find courage” and that his favorite lines are “And indeed there will be time/To wonder, ‘Do I dare,’ and, ‘Do I dare?’/Time to turn back and descend the stair.” Mohan tells Poornima they are both like Prufrock, but Poornima disagrees: “No, she thought, you’re wrong. You’re wrong. He’s nothing like me.” Why do you think they have such different reactions to the poem? How is courage portrayed in this novel?


13. Discuss the two stories Savitha hears from the men with whom she hitchhikes: the multi-generational story that ends in the propane gas explosion, and the story about the daughter who is half black and half white. Why do you think the men decided to share those particular stories with Savitha, especially knowing that she can’t understand English? What do they add to the novel as a whole?


14. Girls Burn Brighter addresses some of the most difficult issues facing women and girls today: rape, domestic violence, prostitution, sex trafficking, and abuse. Did Poornima’sand Savitha’s stories change the way you think about these issues? Did you find the novel’s ultimate message to be at all optimistic or hopeful? Why or why not?15.The novel’s final scene is left ambiguous: we don’t actually see if Poornima and Savitha reunite. How did you feel about the ending? What do you imagine happening to Poornima and Savitha next? Do you think there is the possibility of a new life for them in America?