Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
“She was rubbing her eyes, and her face was swollen with sleep, or maybe fatigue. Her gaze was even, and indifferent, as she stood at the back door, looking out. And it was when Poornima saw this gaze, this indifference, that she understood: the girl had lost her sense of light. It was all the same to her, to all the girls, really: light and dark, morning and night. But it wasn’t an outside light they’d lost a sense of, Poornima realized. It was an interior one. And so that was the aspect of girlhood they’d lost: a sense of their own light.”
This book absolutely broke me. I was not mentally prepared for the total emotional devastation that I experienced when I read it. It hit very close to home because I have a cousin who is an advocate in Texas for girls who have been trafficked for sex, so I know that what I was reading is the horrible reality for so many women. The statistics are staggering…. in 2012 it was estimated that there were 20.9 MILLION people trafficked worldwide. Globally, the average cost to buy a person is $90. 90 dollars. The trafficking industry (sex and forced labor) currently generates a mind blowing profit of 150 billion dollars a year. Think about that for a minute. Even though this book is a work of fiction, to know that so many people endure the type of cruelty and abuse that is depicted throughout this story made it extremely difficult to read.
Poornima and Savitha are young girls in India when Savitha comes to help work in the shop of Poornima's father. The girls quickly become the best of friends and lean on each other for everything. Then a horrific crime occurs and both Poori and Savitha's lives are turned upside down. The book alternates between Poori and Savitha's point of view, so you follow both girls as their paths take them farther and farther away from one another. I have read a lot about the treatment of women in the Indian culture.... last year alone there were 11 specific rape cases that were so brutal and barbaric that they caught the attention of the international community. Women are not seen as equals, and this attitude is prevalent throughout the entire book. My mouth dropped too many times to count at how Poori's father and later her husband and mother-in-law would treat her....like she was sub-human or a stray dog. And Savitha. My God. I put the book down on multiple occasions because the things she endured were just appalling and unspeakable.
While I understand the necessity of writing the story in such a bleak, oppressive way in order to convey the direness of the girls' situation, I kept holding out that there would be some glimmer of hope to cling to by the time the book ended. I read this along with Megan and Kourtney and we were all three so emotionally wrecked when we finished the book that we still have not fully recovered. I could not open another book for over a week, and even now when I see the book on my shelf it fills me with heaviness. I had a thought provoking discussion with Lupita, and it is so interesting to hear the different interpretations of the ending. I will not go in to that here because I want this review to be spoiler free. But suffice it to say, I have never been more frustrated by the way a story ended. I kept going back to Savitha's foreboding conversation with Poori in the beginning of the book when she tells her the story of the elephant and the crow. The moral of her story was "it is better to be swallowed whole than in pieces." This book will break you, piece by piece..... but it will not put you back together again.
Girls Burn Brighter releases on March 6. Many thanks to Flatiron Books for sending me a copy of this thought provoking book. I do want to make the disclaimer that if rape, abuse, or assault is a trigger point for you, then please, please proceed with caution when reading this book.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can make a difference to help end trafficking, please click here.