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Girls Burn Brighter


Girls Burn Brighter

Poornima is a young teen in India, born into the weavers’ caste. She spins thread for her parents’ looms as they weave cotton cloth for saris. When her mother falls ill to cancer, the doctor tells them that she needs to eat fresh fruits and nuts. So Poornima steps up her daily thread production to pay for her mother’s diet, which the family can’t afford otherwise. But the expensive food can’t save her mother, who dies when Poornima is 16. She is left with her father and several younger siblings, and empty space where her mother’s beautiful voice once spoke.

Savitha’s family is even poorer than Poornima’s. Her alcoholic father suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and only quit drinking when he couldn’t grip the glass in his hands anymore. Now he begs at the local temple’s steps, where he stays most of the time. Her mother cooks and cleans for others, while Savitha and her siblings scour the local dump for items that can be sold. However, none of this is enough to keep her family fed, which is what first connects Savitha and Poornima. Savitha is hired (for a pittance) to work the mother’s now-empty loom. The two girls, at first only acquaintances, become friends of the heart; they share confidences, dreams, stories and hopes, along with (occasionally) Savitha’s favorite meal of yogurt rice mixed with banana. The absence left by the loss of Poornima’s loving mother is gradually covered by Savitha’s presence and care.

"GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER will change you even as it breaks your heart, and as you long for freedom for the two girls who still cling to hope in spite of everything."

Change is coming, though. Poornima’s father is looking for a bridegroom for his daughter. A man is found --- an accountant, which is quite impressive for a mere village girl --- yet while Kishore’s parents and sister come to meet Poornima and the marriage is planned, he never visits. Poornima hears that Kishore has an “incongruity,” but she’s not even sure exactly what that word means. And before she is to wed, a crime is committed against Savitha that brings another change for the girls. Savitha flees. And Poornima is married to Kishore, who does indeed have an “incongruity” that startles her. Poornima cooks and cleans for her new family. She discovers that being the new wife who isn’t getting pregnant puts her at serious risk by those who should love and protect her. And that no one really loves her except her lost friend, who has disappeared.

One day, Poornima suffers a terrible attack. She, too, decides to flee her life, but with a purpose: to track down and reunite with Savitha, her beloved friend. But a few false steps, and trust foolishly bestowed on a stranger, land her inside a brothel, where girls are imprisoned and hidden away, and then bought and sold. Poornima has a skill that makes her valuable to the owner, though. While living with Kishore, she studied his accounting ledgers and deciphered the skill of numbers, of income received and accounts owed. But one day, Poornima hears about a girl who loved yogurt rice and banana, and she knows that she’s one step closer to finding her friend. But before them both are hardships, wickedness and the depravity of others. Will the two be separated, and in darkness, forever? Or will freedom and a reunion for Poornima and Savitha actually occur?

Most of us know something about human trafficking. Yet we probably don’t know the intimate details of its terrible, devastating brutality, or the soul-crushing impact on those trapped in it. Shobha Rao’s debut novel puts precious and beloved human faces on the plight of young women who are sold around the world --- and even in America --- for others’ pleasure and profit. GIRLS BURN BRIGHTER will change you even as it breaks your heart, and as you long for freedom for the two girls who still cling to hope in spite of everything.

Reviewed by Melanie Reynolds on March 16, 2018

Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

  • Publication Date: March 6, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250074258
  • ISBN-13: 9781250074256