Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was avoiding this book for quite some time because I knew how difficult some of themes would be. This was a mistake, though. It’s true that you have to prepare yourself for difficult themes, but I found it much more hopeful than previously anticipated.

This novel follows Poornima and Savitha, two teenage girls at the start of the book in their struggles in being unwanted daughters of poor families and their budding friendship amidst trying times in the village of Indravilli, India. Without spoiling too much, the girls are separated from each other, seemingly forever. They each survive atrocious acts committed against them and strive to become reunited with each other.

I’m not doing to lie, there are many parts of this book that are brutal, heartbreaking and infuriating. Amongst that, there is great resilence, hope and beauty. The fierceness of friendship. There is lovely prose.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to explore a novel that addresses the rampant misogyny present in this culture but also the resilence of friendship and beautiful (but not overly descriptive) prose.

Poornima wanted to get up, pull Savitha up from her plate, and embrace her. No one– not ever– had thought to make something for her. Her mother, of course, but she was dead. And the weight of her mother’s hand, holding the comb in her hair, was all she had left of her. At times, many times, she gripped that memory, that weight, as if it alone could guide her through dark and savage forest paths, and eventually, she hoped, into a clearing, but it wasn’t true. It couldn’t. All that memory could do was give small solace.”

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.”

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

⭐⭐⭐

I went into reading this book fully anticipating a light, fun romantic read. While I did get that, I also got something very different from what I asked for.

This novel follows Hannah, an aimless 20 something year old woman who is finally returning back home to Los Angeles after living in multiple cities and dealing with the aftermath of a disastrous affair. Her best friend Gabby takes her out to a bar and Hannah bumps into her high school ex-boyfriend.

The story diverges here between a storyline in which she goes home with Ethan and the one in which she goes home with Gabby (kind of like the movie Sliding Doors).

This is where I found my issues with the book. Slight SPOILER ALERT: in one storyline, Hannah ends up injured and has to stay in a hospital for quite some time. Let me describe the method in which her nurse transfers her to a wheelchair:

He puts his arms underneath my legs. He tells me to put my arms around his neck, to hold on to him tightly. He leans over me, putting his arm around my back… I land back on my bed with a thud.”

I’m surprised the nurse shows up later in the story, because in real life this nurse would be laying in his bed, recovering from a work related injury for performing a vastly unsafe transfer!

The physical therapist isn’t much better: “He puts my feet on the floor. Tbat part I’ve gotten good at. Then he puts the walker in front of me. He pulls me up onto him, resting my arms and chest on his shoulders. He is bearing my weight”. I’m not even sure how this would work. Typically, patients hold onto you for a pivot transfer if there is no assistive device used. I don’t get having both simultaneously.

As an occupational therapist, I was disappointed that Hannah didn’t get any occupational therapy to speak of, though she was discharged home, concerned as to whether she could take care of herself: “I’m looking forward to sleeping in a real bed and bathing myself, maybe blow-drying my hair. Apparently, preparations have to be made to make that work, too. Mark installed a seat in the shower. Oh, to clean myself unaided! These are the things dreams are made of.” By the way, this occurred only a chapter or two after she had a hard time standing. Unrealistic! She also is able to get up from the floor soon after being hospitalized. No.

Overall, I give this book three stars. My favorite aspect of the book was her friendship with Gabby. I just really wish the author consulted health care professionals regarding the rehabilitation process, so that the odd choices would not distract me from the rest of the story.

How to Set Yourself on Fire by Julia Dixon Evans

⭐⭐⭐☄

I received a free copy of this book from Dzanc books in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my opinion in any way.

This debut novel follows our protagonist Sheila in the loss of her grandmother, strained relationship with her mother and relationships with her next door neighbor Vinnie and his daughter Torrey.

Sheila visits her grandmother the day before she passes away. Her grandmother mentions a shoebox, but tells Sheila she will explain more about it tomorrow. For Sheila’s grandmother, tomorrow never comes as she passes away the next day. Sheila investigates the contents of the shoebox and discovers hundreds of letters addressed to Sheila’s grandmother from a mysterious man called Harold C. Carr (who isn’t her grandfather).

Sheila explores this mystery with her neighbor Vinnie’s daughter and develops a friendship with her (and somewhat of a relationship with Vinnie) along the way.

This book is very funny in parts, tender and also awkward (as Sheila is an awkward and quirky character). Sheila is a bit of a trainwreck and not always entirely likeable.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes quirky stories, intergenerational friendships, domestic dramas/comedy and mysteries.

This book was recently released May 8th of this year and you can get a copy wherever books are sold. Thank you, Dzanc books for the copy for review!

“And then it occurs to me: if Torrey walked right out of my life right now, never to return, I’d be crushed. I’m already in too deep. It’s not like she’s a normal friend. She’s not a sister. She’s not a daughter. She’s something else–someone I don’t have to care about, but I do.”