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Publisher's Summary

A bracing and hypnotic portrait of the complexities of female friendship from the New York Times best-selling author of The Woman Upstairs.

Julia Robinson and Cassie Burnes have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge: while Julia comes from a stable, happy middle-class family, Cassie never knew her father, who died when she was an infant, and has an increasingly tempestuous relationship with her single mother, Bev. When Bev becomes involved with the mysterious Anders Shute, Cassie feels cruelly abandoned. Disturbed, angry and desperate for answers, she sets out on a journey that will put her own life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship.

Compact, compelling and ferociously sad, The Burning Girl is at once a story about childhood, friendship and community and a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about childhood and friendship. Claire Messud brilliantly mixes folklore and bildungsroman, exploring the ways in which our made-up stories and their consequences become real.

©2017 Claire Messud (P)2017 Little Brown Book Group

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  • Rachel Redford
  • 09-14-17

An outstanding novel not to miss!


Every now and then there comes along a really outstanding novel that keeps you thinking and remembering long after it’s finished. This is it. Don’t miss it.

As children Julia and Cassie are sister-close childhood soul-buddies in America who escape their differently rather repressive homes into an inventive world of fantasy acted out in an eerie abandoned asylum still resonating with past pain and suffering. At the age of 12, that outlet is closed down and as the real world closes in, the bond between the two girls loosens and they drift apart.

As teenagers, Julia suffers the anguish of seeing her lost friend with the boy she had hoped to have for herself. The picture of adolescence and its agonies and complexities is brilliantly conveyed. The whole is Julia’s story, a great canvas more like a painting than a narrative, infinitely subtle. Cassie’s home life disintegrates when her mother imports a partner whose control over his new family becomes sinister and Cassie runs away in search of the father she was always told is dead but who she believes is the guardian angel she’s found through Google (this is the now-age of Instagram and internet searches).

The events which begin in childhood take Julia to the end of school after Cassie has gone from her life for good (to explain would be to spoil it). There are no neat endings, no happy resolutions, no clear lessons, no absolute blame; there are failures and grief, struggles and complexities… Time passes and Julia and Cassie come through – just like real life. This makes it sound depressing but it’s not. Pulsating with life, beautiful prose and sophisticated story-telling, it’s hugely exhilarating and hauntingly real.

Morgan Hallett’s reading is a great bonus to the listening – absolutely believable as Julia. But why is Cassie called Cathy all the way through??

4 of 4 people found this review helpful