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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

Featured Article: The Best Audiobooks on Friendship to Deepen Your Bonds


Friends are the family we choose. When we’re going through hardships or have something to celebrate, our friends are often the people we turn to first. So much of literature, art, music, and film is dedicated to romantic love, but the love between friends can be just as (if not more) rewarding. Of course, plenty of authors "are" writing about friendship, in all its many forms. Here is our list of the very best audiobooks about friendship across genres.

What listeners say about Girls Burn Brighter

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  • Overall
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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.

25 people found this helpful

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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.

5 people found this helpful

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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.

4 people found this helpful

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Hated the ending

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

3 people found this helpful

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Couldn't Finish It

I could not take the narrator. Even at 1.25x speed her voice was way too plaintive. The entire thing was narrated as if she's on the verge of story. The author is overly descriptive that does not lend to the story. I understand what the author was attempting but it didn't quite make it. It was overly harsh and the main characters were not portrayed as the strong women they were supposed to be. Once I read a review that had a spoiler in it - I was done. The only motivation for finishing this book was gone.

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Horrible after horrible

You need a strong stomach for it!! Easy to get frustrated with the plot line.

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What are the other reviewers talking about?

First, I agree with the reviewers who complained about the narrator's low-level hysteria. I stopped listening several times to get over her choice of style. I say 'choice' because her characterizations of other people in the story and the style she spoke in once the story was over were not like that. So why this nearly-bursting-out-in-tears throughout the entire 11-hours-and-38-minutes-long book? Yuk, Ms. Nankani, a really irritating choice.

Anyhow, it was the story ... I accepted the style of narration to get to the payoff. The protagonists, these two women, went through all the worst parts of hell that their cruel uncaring misogynistic classist colorist colonized capitalistic racist world could put them through and they kept the light of their spirits intact. What are other reviewers complaining about - including those with so-called spoiler alerts - when they write about a disappointing end? What disappointing end? OMG If the end didn't leave you with your heart pounding, then what story were you reading?

On the other hand, I think the author made a timing mistake because of what the boss in India says to Poornima and what the not-quite-a-boss says in Seattle. That had me confused, but hey, roll with it, right?

This story is a reminder not to look away when we see someone in need, but take the time to understand and be of some real use.

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Horrible story

Too many disturbing events without a happy ending. Not the book for me. If you enjoy reading about the horrific world of sex trafficking then this book is for you.

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Great Story - Less Great Performance

I loved the story, but could not STAND the narration. The narrator sounded like she was going to burst into tears at the end of every single sentence. It was really off-putting. I wanted so badly to stop listening, but the story was so good! I toughed it out, and am glad I did, but will definitely not listen to anything by this narrator ever again.

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pleasant surprise

not a traditional read for me, but with a push from book Club, I'm very happy I read it!