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Publisher's Summary

Girls Burn Brighter is a searing, electrifying debut audiobook set in India and America. Irrepressible author Shobha Rao examines 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 listeners to two heroines who never allow the hope that burns within them to be extinguished.

"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)

©2018 Shobha Rao (P)2018 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"A searing portrait of what feminism looks like in much of the world, Shobha Rao's first novel, Girls Burn Brighter...follows an incandescent friendship." — Vogue

"In this harsh but vibrant debut, two best friends navigate the landscape of India at the dawn of the new millennium. Rao's feminist commentary is particularly potent, situating a powerful bond in restrictive, patriarchal structures." — Entertainment Weekly  

"Soneela Nankani narrates this painful coming-of-age story in a subdued style that draws even more sympathy from the listener...This is an expertly told story of survival, courage, and grit that fans of world literature will enjoy." — AudioFile Magazine

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

The Color Indigo

I'm male and white, was raised in an upper middle class family, and am quite conscious of all the privilege that comes with that background. I've done what I can to overcome the blinders that are associated with my lot in life. Things like (as a physician) working with AIDS extensively, when it was still a death sentence, working on an American Indian reservation for three years, practicing in areas of the United States where contact with people with radically different, and far less privileged, than my own was a daily part of life. I marched in Washington, D.C. on the day after Trump's inauguration with 500,000 women, including my daughter and wife. All that said, literature has often been my best route to new levels of understanding. The Color Purple, Alice Walker's masterpiece, for example, permanently altered my understanding about poverty, opened my eyes to the abuse women are so often subjected to, and permanently cleansed me of homophobia.

Girls Burn Brighter, like The Color Purple, left me permanently altered in the way that I view the world: what it is like to live in a country where the percapita annual income is less than $900, how women are routinely treated in South Asia, the extent of human trafficking in so many countries, including our own, and much more. Shobha Rao manages in this novel to vividly portray the plight of two young girls whose culture and gender expose them to horrific psychological and physical trauma while somehow managing to avoid crushing the reader into despair.

As a reader, I can only take so much, no matter how well written, information about the depravities that humans wreak upon one another, or in this case, men wreak upon women. Shobha Rao, though, writes this novel as if she is holding a candle up for the reader, leading him/her through the dark cave of human behavior, but always preventing the total extinction of light. It is very difficult for me to think of another book that so honestly portrays suffering and injustice, yet is so engaging, even enthralling, from cover to cover.

Shoba Rao is a master of suspense. Not in the Dan Brown (e.g. DaVinci Code) or Hitchcock tradition. Not in anyone's tradition but her own. Her method of suspense building demands a discriminating reader, one that requires that you, the reader, immerse him/herself in the situation, consider the tools available, map a course that YOU would take, then adjust to curves that the author throws at you. Rao won't problem solve for you, she asks your attention and commitment. And she won't let you off the hook until the very last sentence.

Two girls, one named after the moon, one after the sun, both with an inner light that illuminates the reader's passage through the darker reaches of human nature. A story that is intricately woven partially through the literal inclusion of weaving (including that of an indigo sari) in the plot. Rao ultimately creates a tapestry that this upper middle class white male, even through the fog of associated privilege, will not be able to forget.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Hated the ending

The ending left me feeling very short changed. It felt like there was no closure.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Jack
  • GAINESVILLE, FL, United States
  • 03-25-18

Don’t read unless you love metaphors

This is an interesting story with two intriguing main characters. But the author can’t seem to use one metaphor or simile when two or ever three would do. The writing is overly descriptive in ways that are meant to be poetic but end up boring. The worst part of the audible version is the reader who uses a constant plaintive tone that becomes tiresome and annoying. If this had not been my book clubs choice I would never have finished it.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Powerful book

This book has a very powerful message. I struggled to listen to some parts because of the vivid descriptions; however, it paints a very true or realistic view of incidents that are taking place in our world. This book will have a lasting impact on the reader. I was very disappointed in the abrupt ending.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Lindsay
  • Denver, CO, United States
  • 06-13-18

Holy crap, this is heavy!

First off, reader be warned, this book is tough. The story itself is good enough, but it was really hard to listen to because some of the content is so upsetting and hard to listen to. If it hadn't have been the selected read by my book club, I honestly wouldn't have finished it because the story gets pretty dark. It did make me think about life from a different perspective though, which I guess that is my take away.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Really traumatic

I couldn't finish it because there is no break in the trauma. While of course women are treated horribly in many parts of the world, this story is melodramatic to the point where it's hard to buy into. It might be a good read if the characters weren't SO pure while people they encounter are all SO evil.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Performance overly emotional

I was unable to finish this book (thus overall and story ratings might have been higher) because of the overly emotional intonation of the reader, which distracted from the words of the novel.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Pretty good book, but the reader, UGH

This is the first time in a long time that a reader nearly made me want to quit a book. EVERYTHING was so fraught with emotion. EVERYTHING. Simple descriptive sentences are read as if the reader is saying that she just met a man with a pineapple on his head who only spoke in pig Latin (random example but you know, like, "Can you believe this?!" when really all she is reading is that it was sunny that day or something else mundane). I only kept going because I had to read this for book club. I would highly recommend NOT doing the audio version of this book. And then I would really only recommend the book to someone who is okay with excessive sexual violence (not always explicit, but there nonetheless). It got a bit over the top at the end.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

I rolled my eyes so many times

Ugh this was tough to get through. I have to actually sit down to write this because I felt so strongly about the book. The first 3 hours I wanted to return the book so badly. If this hadn’t been a book club pick, I would have. The narrator starts off talking in such a whiny voice. Pairing that with writing that goes in to so many useless details was very difficult for me to handle. But then the story finally gets going and I decided I could finish it. The author takes an entire paragraph to describe the most basic of things, in this case, a banana. We all know what a banana looks like. I don’t need to hear about it for 5 minutes. The ending was definitely rushed, leaving lots of loose ends. I will not be reading any more from this author and should have trusted my gut and ignored this month’s book club pick.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Sad and haunting

This book was so sad to listen to. I think the reader did a great job of doing the voices of the various characters. The story itself will make you cry. The ending...well it’s one of those endings that doesn’t like to wrap itself up nicely like a bow. Which makes sense considering the harsh reality you are presented with throughout the story. I love the continuing motif of fire and inner light.