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Girls Burn Brighter

A Novel
Written by: Shobha Rao
Narrated by: Soneela Nankani
Length: 11 hrs and 38 mins
4 out of 5 stars (21 ratings)
Price: CDN$ 31.97
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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

What the critics say

"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

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

Heartbreaking and captivating

Although this book broke my heart several times, I still loved every minute of it. The story of the unbreakable friendship and love between the two girls despite all of the hardships they face is amazing. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes rich story telling and can handle the harsh reality the girls face. #Audible1

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Smith's Rock
  • 2018-04-05

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Lindsay
  • 2018-06-13

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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2018-04-01

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

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Jack
  • 2018-03-25

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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  • Fiction Lover
  • 2019-04-06

Powerful, engrossing, heavy, haunting

The audio performance was superb. She had correct pronunciations and accents were perfect. Loved her voice. Alternated between it and Kindle. Preferred audio. The story was amazing and I didn't want it to end. I read it while traveling and due to the nature of the story, the travels and journeys, I suggest you take it with you on your next trip. I am a picky reader but loved this one. If you like it, I recommend Toss of a Lemon as your next read.

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  • Susan Reynolds
  • 2019-02-07

Tough to Read but Important

This is a tough story to read, but an important reminder of the conditions in which many women live today. The story is well written, but often perhaps too well. I found the overuse of metaphors and descriptions distracting. The other distracting element in the audio version was the narration. Her enunciations are perfect, but she speaks in such a whiny tone throughout the entire text that it's difficult to make out the parts that need to be emphasized. If you're listening to someone describe a banana and sex trafficking in the same high pitched whine, it feels like they are of the same importance, and of course, they are not. Still, it's a good read and an important book.

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  • Disco
  • 2019-01-26

Unfinished!

This book was incredibly sad and just when something good was about to happen it ended!

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  • Ava
  • 2018-12-19

I loved this book.

The book was slow to hook me but by the end I was waiting in my driveway to hear the last few minutes. The narrator was one I had not heard before. Overall, she was good, but the tone sometimes reads “whiney”, which some ppl may not be able to get past. A touching story that can get dark but well worth the listen.

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  • Samantha Fox
  • 2018-12-04

A story that is hard to hear

Such a great story that showcases the effect of disenfranchisement and ascribed cultural value on young Indian women. A fictional tale that is undoubtedly and heartbreaking true for many.

It is amazing to watch the two main characters grow over the course of the book. They go through so much and through it all they hold on to their love. This story left me wishing there was more I could do to help women on similar circumstances in the world.

My biggest complaint about this book is the performance. Her voice was very whiney. While the characters suffer at times which warrants a tone of that type, it's rather annoying to whine when talking about buses or looking at a red car and a blue car or a bus, etc. Definitely becomes grating at times.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2018-11-30

Brutality without redemption or justification ; narration just plain irritating

One and a half banana yogurt rices for this. I really disliked the book and , unusually, the Audible narration as well (as I often do, I half read, half listened). I wanted to like this book, as a woman and as a feminist. And there are parts from which a good novel could be assembled. But the language falls flat, the insights of the characters seem forced and implausible at times, and perhaps most importantly, there is a disturbing, recurrent conflation of natural, congenital physical defect with a character defects. This creates a kind of provincial, parochial outlook which doesn’t come across as understandable in the poor, provincial protagonists as much as that of the author, which doesn’t seem as understandable or ok. The book is unremittingly bleak, the violence excessive, the ending weak, and what I felt was a lesbian undercurrent was anesthetized by being desexualized and elided (sex is mostly dirty in the book, but there is no redeeming moment of whole sexuality for these women) I could go on, but let that suffice.

A note on the audible narration. It’s the most irritating I’ve ever heard and I listen to at least two dozen books a year. Her enunciation and diction are great, but the tone makes everything either sound like a question or the! most! important! thing! ever!