The Burning Girl
Booklist Reviews 2017 July #1
*Starred Review* After the fierce complexity of The Woman Upstairs (2013), Messud presents a more concentrated, no less emotionally intense novel about an adhesively close friendship between two Massachusetts girls and its tragic unraveling. Fatherless Cassie, whose mother is a hospice nurse, is tiny, radiantly pale, and audacious. Julia, Messud's wise-beyond-her-years narrator, is sturdy, voraciously observant, and quick-witted, the doted-on daughter of a dentist and a writer. During the summer before seventh grade, the girls' volunteer efforts at an animal shelter end in a bloody mess. They then instigate even riskier adventures trekking out to and exploring a long-abandoned women's mental asylum. Over the next two years, Julia thrives in school; Cassie does not. The boy Julia likes likes Cassie. Cassie's mother finds a nightmare of a boyfriend, and Cassie disappears behind a carapace of secrecy and stoicism that conceals deepening despair. Julia's concern over Cassie intertwines with her musings on the suffering of the asylum patients as she discerns that growing up female "was about learning to be afraid." Messud's entrancing, gorgeously incisive coming-of-age drama astutely tracks the sharpening perceptions of an exceptionally eloquent young woman navigating heartbreak and regret and realizing that one can never fathom "the wild, unknowable interior lives" of others, not even someone you love. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2017 March #2
Friends since nursery school, Julia and Cassie are bonded by a desire to get out of airless, noose-tight Royston, MA. But there's only one burning girl in Messud's title, and that's Cassie, who ventures further and further afield during adolescence until she puts friendship with Julia—and her own life—in danger. From the New York Times best-selling The Emperor's Children, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. With a six-city tour and big promotion at BEA and ALA.Copyright 2017 Library Journal.
LJ Reviews 2017 June #2
Julia and Cassie are best friends from childhood, but starting in seventh grade they begin to drift apart. With her college-bound peers, Julia, the book's narrator, moives toward academics and the speech team, while Cassie gets involved with the party scene. Conflict with her mother and her mother's live-in boyfriend lead Cassie to increasingly reckless behavior. As Julia helplessly observes Cassie's downward spiral, her attempts to reach out are rebuffed, and she turns to Cassie's ex-boyfriend, Peter (whom Julia has always had a crush on) for solace. While the story line of friends taking different paths during adolescence is well-trod territory, Messud (The Emperor's Children) displays uncommon skill in depicting the conflicting interests and emotions of the tween years. The opening section is especially vivid in describing the summer before seventh grade, when the girls, with one foot still in childhood, struggle to fill their idle hours with exploration and imagination. In giving the sole narration to Julia, Messud somewhat paints herself into a corner, as the accounts of Cassie's experiences told to Julia through Peter include a level of observational detail that defies plausibility.
PW Reviews 2017 June #2
Trying to console her heartbroken daughter, Julia Robinson's mother muses, "Everyone loses a best friend at some point." Julia is the narrator of Messud's beautiful novel about two young girls, inseparable since nursery school in a small Massachusetts town, who feel they're "joined by an invisible thread," but who drift apart as they come of age. For years, Julia and Cassie Burnes have shared adventures and dreams, but as they cross the pivotal threshold into seventh grade, Julia feels betrayed when Cassie is drawn to boys, alcohol, and drugs. To the reader, the split seems inevitable. Julia is the product of a stable household, but Cassie's blowsy, unreliable mother transfers her affection to a brutally controlling lover who destroys Cassie's sense of security. Desperately unhappy, Cassie sets out to find the father she has never known and begins a spiral of self-destruction that Julia, now no longer Cassie's intimate friend, must hear about from the boy they both love. Messud shines a tender gaze on her protagonists and sustains an elegiac tone as she conveys the volatile emotions of adolescent behavior and the dawning of female vulnerability ("being a girl is about learning to be afraid"). Julia voices the novel's leitmotif: that everyone's life is essentially a mysterious story, distorted by myths. Although it reverberates with astute insights, in some ways this simple tale is less ambitious but more heartfelt than Messud's previous work.