Shobha Rao’s Girls Burn Brighter is an intense story of survival and sisterhood.
And so much more.
Set in India against a backdrop of a strict caste system, arranged marriages, and harsh poverty, the two main characters of Rao’s poetic story develop an unlikely friendship that proves to be an enduring constant on which they build the strength needed to endure the violence and powerlessness they experience. This alone is reason enough to read the book but I knew it was important to push myself past the initial awe at this story of strength and resiliency. When I did, I experienced an even deeper story of multidimensional characters navigating their lives and attempting to balance tradition with self-realization.
The book begins with a story about a temple in the village of Indravalli and the old childless woman who was responsible for growing the trees whose wood was used to build it. Referring to the trees as her children, the old woman is complimented on her good fortune to have so many sons. At this, with “her eyes on fire,” the woman quickly gives the correction that the trees are not her sons but her daughters. This story and its subtle emphasis on fire, wholeness, and the girl-child sets the tone for the book and these recurring themes.
As the book continues, the reader witnesses Rao’s distinct talent for detailed descriptions of the surroundings of her main characters, Poornima and Savitha. She offers us a vibrant, albeit stark, picture of life in Indravalli and the ever-present gender inequities women face. Both characters experience trauma that forces them apart and drastically changes the trajectories of their lives.
There was a door, she remembered, a hidden one. Where all her treasures lay. And it remained closed, through the tea stall and the concrete room and the drugs, through the men and the men and the men. And it was through this door that the words found their way.
In her book, as in her BookPage “Behind the Book” article, Rao challenges her reader to reflect upon what a girl is worth.
A brown girl. A poor girl. A disabled girl. An uneducated girl. An ugly girl.
A girl in Khayelitsha, South Africa. A girl in Aleppo, Syria. A girl in Indravalli, India.
What is she worth, anyway? And why should we care?
Throughout Girls Burn Brighter, we must keep these questions in our minds. We must answer them honestly, then interrogate and re-interrogate those answers as well as our biases to get to the truth. The truth may be uncomfortable and unexpected. But to go through this process by reading this book and others like it, is one place to begin to explore the worth of girls. To see their light, their wisdom, their energy, their complexities, their fire, their spirit burning brighter.
For further reading:
Shobha Rao’s homepage: http://shobharaowrites.com/
An original essay written by Shobha Rao: http://www.powells.com/post/original-essays/the-badlands
An interview of Shobha Rao by Book Dragon: http://smithsonianapa.org/bookdragon/cant-think-happier-story-shobha-rao-talks-girls-burn-brighter-booklist-reader/
BookPage “Behind the Book” by Shobha Rao: http://bookpage.com/behind-the-book/22376-every-day-all-over-world-what-girl-worth#.Wsi0eIjwbIV
- Booklist Reader: https://www.booklistreader.com/2018/03/06/books-and-authors/i-cant-think-of-a-happier-story-shobha-rao-talks-girls-burn-brighter/
- San Francisco Chronicle: https://www.sfchronicle.com/books/article/Girls-Burn-Brighter-by-Shobha-Rao-12771665.php
- Rebel Women Lit: https://medium.com/@RebelWomenLit/girls-burn-brighter-an-incredible-tale-of-love-sisterhood-and-horrible-s-t-women-go-through-at-4c149efa2ba5
- She Lit: http://www.shelit.com/post/169764312715/book-review-girls-burn-brighter-by-shobha-rao
- Bustle: https://www.bustle.com/p/girls-burn-brighter-by-shobha-rao-is-a-book-that-proves-the-power-of-redeeming-female-friendships-8415494
- BookPage: https://bookpage.com/reviews/22317-shobha-rao-girls-burn-brighter#.WtUcqojwbIV
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