What’s it all about?:
This is not a story of bad things happening to bad girls. I say this because I know you, Dex, and I know how you think. I’m going to tell you a story, and this time, it will be the truth.
Hannah Dexter is a nobody, ridiculed at school by golden girl Nikki Drummond and bored at home. But in their junior year of high school, Nikki’s boyfriend walks into the woods and shoots himself. In the wake of the suicide, Hannah finds herself befriending new girl Lacey and soon the pair are inseparable, bonded by their shared hatred of Nikki. Lacey transforms good girl Hannah into Dex, a Doc Marten and Kurt Cobain fan, who is up for any challenge Lacey throws at her. The two girls bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.
But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it’s a secret that will change everything . . .
Starting – and ending – with tragedy, Girls on Fire stands alongside The Virgin Suicides in its brilliant portrayal of female adolescence, but with a power and assurance all its own.
What did I think?:
First of all, thank you so much to Little, Brown publishers for sending me a copy of this extraordinary novel, Robin Wasserman’s first adult read, in exchange for an honest review. I had already read some reviews of this book prior to going in, obviously nothing with spoilers of course but I do like do get a certain flavour of what I’m about to read before I begin. So, I was prepared for it to be quite disturbing and fairly powerful but what I wasn’t prepared for is the emotions that it elicited from me. Oh my goodness, Robin Wasserman describes the frenzy of female adolescence in such an unsettling way – especially the intense nature of female friendships that are formed at that time. I remember myself being engaged in a few friendships like this (which ended up being disastrous) and recall all those occasionally bitter feelings when things don’t turn out quite the way you want it to and you feel you’ve lost a piece of your soul along the way.
Girls On Fire follows an impassioned female friendship in the 90’s between two teenage girls, Hannah Dexter (who becomes Dex) when she bonds with new girl Lacey over their hatred of Queen Bee and notorious mean girl of the school, Nikki. Lacey changes quiet, good girl Hannah into a bit of a rebel in the way she dresses, her general attitude to herself and others and the way she behaves both in private and in public. They listen to Kurt Cobain together, tell each other (some of) their deepest secrets and get into a bit of trouble, all the while swearing to have each others backs forever. Alongside all this is the tragedy of Nikki’s boyfriend, Craig who was found dead in the nearby forest as a suspected suicide from a shotgun. Once all the dots are connected and certain secrets are unearthed, the fire and fury that are unleashed are incredibly dangerous for all parties concerned and reveals why adolescence can be one of the most vicious and frightening things you can go through, if you choose to go down the wrong path.
They had all been girls, once upon a time. If they were afraid now, of their girls, it was only because they remembered what it was like. Girls grew up; girls grew wild. Girls didn’t know themselves and the sharp-toothed needs breeding within, and it was a mother’s job not to let them.
This novel certainly packed a punch and I was overwhelmed by both the way the plot unfolded, piece by piece and how well we got to know our characters in the end. It is a tough read and certainly has very adult themes like suicide, satanism, drugs, sex, bullying so please be aware of that if you plan to read this and are sensitive to these subjects. For me, this was a gritty, no holds barred look at the terrible things that can happen in a person’s life if they are exposed to the wrong people or brought up in a certain way. A lot of our characters make stupid, awful mistakes but it’s quite hard to think of any of them as inherently evil….although, saying that, some things do come incredibly close to that barrier! It was quite a visceral reading experience for me as I was reminded of a couple of toxic friendships I’ve had in the past and it took me right back to certain awful decisions I made in a desperate need to please that girl who had become the most important person in my life at that time. Sad, but true and Robin Wasserman captures that horrible teenage angst, trauma of growing up and the ton of hormones flying left, right and centre to tell a fascinating story that I’m still thinking about quite a while after finishing it.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):