Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Girls on Fire

Hannah Dexter was just a bland girl going through the motions until Craig decided to kill himself and through their small town into chaos. After feeling the burn of humiliation at the hands of Craig's love Nikki Drummond, she bonds with fiery newcomer Lacey and they become inseparable. Lacey dubs Hannah Dex, giving rise to a persona who cares about music, experiencing life, rejecting the norm, and Lacey's approval. Dex is suddenly somebody, but is it the person she wants to be or the person Lacey wants her to be? Lacey is pretty clearly hiding something and won't share with her best friend no matter how close they get. Her secret threatens to destroy their relationship and their small town.

Girls on Fire is an intense read that takes place in the early 90's featuring teenage girls in the most dramatic point in their lives. Everything is about surviving the horrific landscape of high school where one wrong move can destroy you. While I like aspects of these girls, each of them is so steeped in manipulating others and projecting a socially appropriate or a socially disastrous image that they become desperate and willing to do terrible things. Hannah is pretty bland and fine with doing well in school, but then Lacey turns her life upside down. Lacey introduces her to drugs, parties, Nirvana, and not caring what others think of her. Lacey's approval means everything to Hannah and she will do anything to keep it. Lacey has her own issues and secrets. Her whole persona is designed to be rebellious. Hannah makes her feel powerful because Lacey molded her new persona and manipulates her when it suits her. To Lacey, she's being benevolent and protecting her, but it's clear she just wants to control something in her life when she controls nothing. Her home life is horrible with an alcoholic mother and a controlling, religious stepfather. Nikki Drummond, on the other hand, is the golden girl externally, but the queen bee mean girl underneath. She can manipulate anyone to do exactly whatever evil move she wants and come out looking like a paragon. All of them choose to be cruel to each other and all of them come out with scars they try to hide from the others.

The format of the book is interesting. The "Us" sections are Lacey and Hannah's alternating points of view. The "Them" sections show other people's point of view like Hannah's, Lacey's, and Nikki's mothers. It shows that absolutely everyone has inner depths beneath what they project to the world no matter what their age or experience. We see their true selves and their inner thoughts. Everyone tempers themselves to fit in to whatever society they are a part of. Every character has something to relate to and thoughts and feelings they would never share with anyone else. At first I thought it should have been a teen book, but the violence, the sex, the grey morality, and the honest and multilayered depiction of each character is much more adult.

Girls on Fire is a magnetic read that I couldn't put down. Robin Wasserman's amazing writing crafted a complex story that was masterfully revealed through multiple points of view. Craig's suicide story loomed in the background of the entire narrative until all is revealed in the final pages. The only flaw I found was the ending. I just didn't quite believe it, but it had an interesting symmetry with the rest of the plot. I look forward to the next book Robin Wasserman comes out with.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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