Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao [in Library Journal]
Difficult life circumstances bring together two Indian village girls: Poornima meets Savitha because Poornima’s recently widowed father needs help weaving saris; clever, kind Savitha must help support her impoverished family. The pair are soon inseparable, nurturing each other in a society in which their gender dooms them as financial liabilities to be bartered off. And then a horrifying act against Savitha sets her adrift in a life of unrelenting cruelty.
Poornima is pushed into a loveless marriage, where she’s abused almost beyond recognition. When she finally escapes, her unwavering determination to find Savitha keeps her alive, as she painstakingly plots her path through the international underworld of sex slavery and trafficking to reunite somehow, somewhere, with her missing soulmate.
Shobha Rao’s (An Unrestored Woman) debut novel finds the ideal narrator in Soneela Nankani, who remains consistently effective in voicing her two protagonists while also displaying impressively subtle adaptations for the rest of the diverse cast, from a powerlessly adoring father to a wretchedly angry mother-in-law, from an American airport stranger to a brutally abusive pimp.
Verdict: A radiant love story set amid searing inhumanity, these Girls will surely be bright beacons in all library collections.