An NPR Best Book of the Year • A Buzzfeed Best Book of the Year
On Halloween, 1991, a popular high school basketball star ventures into the woods near Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, and disappears. Three days later, he’s found with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand—a discovery that sends tremors through this conservative community, already unnerved by growing rumors of Satanic worship in the region.
In the wake of this incident, bright but lonely Hannah Dexter is befriended by Lacey Champlain, a dark-eyed, Cobain-worshiping bad influence in lip gloss and Doc Martens. The charismatic, seductive Lacey forges a fast, intimate bond with the impressionable Dex, making her over in her own image and unleashing a fierce defiance that neither girl expected. But as Lacey gradually lures Dex away from her safe life into a feverish spiral of obsession, rebellion, and ever greater risk, an unwelcome figure appears on the horizon—and Lacey’s secret history collides with Dex’s worst nightmare.
By turns a shocking story of love and violence and an addictive portrait of the intoxication of female friendship, set against the unsettled backdrop of a town gripped by moral panic, Girls on Fire is an unflinching and unforgettable snapshot of girlhood: girls lost and found, girls strong and weak, girls who burn bright and brighter—and some who flicker away.
For her first adult novel, Wasserman (The Waking Dark) doesn't stray far from her YA wheelhouse, with this overwrought if intermittently powerful tale of the increasingly toxic relationship between two outcast high school girls. It's 1991 in stodgy Battle Creek, Pa., not long after the apparent suicide of jock Craig Ellison, boyfriend of the school's reigning mean girl, Nikki Drummond, and neither the lumpy, socially awkward Hannah Dexter nor the rebellious Kurt Cobain acolyte Lacey Champlain fits in. So it seems only natural when the pair begin to bond over their seemingly shared hatred of Nikki. But unbeknownst to Hannah (or "Dex," as the alpha Lacey rechristens her), Lacey is abused at home by a holy roller stepfather and alcoholic mother and has secrets that threaten both of them, not least a smoldering hidden past with Nikki. Wasserman attempts to imbue her keenly observed junior Thelma and Louise with broader social resonance about girlhood and empowerment, but for many readers the take-home message may instead be that not all unhappy lives prove compelling.
A little disturbing for me...
I'm not a prude but this made me cringe and feel uncomfortable at times. The underlying story line kept my attention but I prefer less raw content.
This author is fearless. She dives deep into the lives and minds of two teenage girls who need to be needed. She's graphic, brutal, mysterious, honest and unforgiving. The type of story to stay in your head and bounce around for a while before you're ready to begin a new one.
This novel is a roller coaster ride full of twists and turns, ups and downs. Extremely well written, vivid and brutal. Once you start, you can't stop until the final word. Don't even hesitate purchasing. I will eagerly await her next novel.