The debut novel of Shobha Rao, 'Girls Burn Brighter' is a revelation. Rao has released a collection of short stories before this and won the Katherine Ann Porter prize and is no novice. This novel was startling, complex, and illuminated a world I'm shamed to have not thought much about. That has changed.
'Girls Burn Brighter' is the story of two girls, Poornima and Savitha, who grow up in small village in Indravalli, India. They are both from weaver families, but Savitha's family is impoverished and she comes to work for Poornima's father. They become friends and bond over simple pleasures and hopes for the future. They are torn apart after a shocking crime and breach of trust on the part of Poornima's father forces Savitha to disappear. Poornima is determined to find her friend, but her movement is restricted and custom demands she marry and it is some time before she can take up the search for her friend.
There is terrible, callous cruelty in this novel, but threaded through it is the strength of a friendship and even after years of separation the fond memories of their time together help both women through the hardships they face. After years, the novel moves both women, still apart, to America and still more difficulties. Alone, they learn to rely on their inner light and refuse to allow anyone to extinguish it. A marvelous story.