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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   

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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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.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Hated the ending

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

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  • 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.

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Captivating

I was captivated by this book from the beginning. The cruel treatment that these Indian girls face in day to day living and the faint glimmers of hope that they will conquer these adversities, are an eye opening glimpse into a different culture. Well written, an attention keeping storyline and an ending that surprised me and left me wanting more. A book that I will definitely listen to again.