Wednesday 25 May 2016

GIRLS ON FIRE by Robin Wasserman

Every parent knows their teenage daughter has secrets - but some secrets are beyond their wildest imaginings... This is not a story of bad things happening to bad girls. I say this because I know you, Dex, and I know how you think. 

 I'm going to tell you a story, and this time, it will be the truth. 

Hannah Dexter is a nobody, ridiculed at school by golden girl Nikki Drummond and bored at home. But in their junior year of high school, Nikki's boyfriend walks into the woods and shoots himself. In the wake of the suicide, Hannah finds herself befriending new girl Lacey and soon the pair are inseparable, bonded by their shared hatred of Nikki. 

Lacey transforms good girl Hannah into Dex, a Doc Marten and Kurt Cobain fan, who is up for any challenge Lacey throws at her. The two girls bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable. 

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it's a secret that will change everything... 

This is a book that caught my eye as soon as I saw the thought-provoking cover. Funny how such a simple image can conjure so much intrigue. And when I read the blurb, I knew it was a book I would love to read.

Thanks to Hachette Australia, I did. :)

Hannah 'Dex' Dexter is a good girl. She's also boring, disconnected, is often ridiculed, has no real dreams or aspirations, and really hates the very popular Nikki Drummond. But when fate--in the form of the mysterious Lacey--steps into her path after a very unfortunate and embarrassing event, her life changes forever.

Lacey Champlain is a bad girl. She's exciting, comes from an unstable home, is full of ideas, has many stories to tell, is full of dreams and thoughts, plus she loves Kurt Cobain. He's her God and she worships everything about him and his music. But when fate presents her with a potential new girl to fill the void, her life takes a new turn.

Together, Dex and Lacey start a friendship that is both toxic and wonderful. In each other they find true companionship, as well as the undertones of manipulation sure to tear them apart. But there's something worse than Lacey's manipulation between them, there are secrets that could burn everything to the ground. Secrets related to the awful incident that happened in the woods, a suicide that rocked the town...

Wow. Yeah. This book is an amazing piece of storytelling, sometimes uncomfortable and even cruel. It hooks you in and takes you hostage, keeps you invested in the insane story unfolding in the alternating POVs of Dex and Lacey. One is telling the events as they happen, the other is offering a sort-of confessional. But both reveal their inner thoughts and secrets they kept hidden beneath the surface. Until both stories meet in the one pivotal point in time guaranteed to make or break them.

I was actually in my late teens during the time this book was set (1991-92) and was also infected by the intoxicating Nirvana bug. I might not have worshipped Kurt Cobain like Lacey did, but I was affected by his vision. It made me dig deeper, look for more meaning, and refuse to settle for what was preached. In a way, his words and attitude spoke to the turbulence of teens facing the last decade of the 20th century. Which makes what happened to him that much more of a tragedy.

But anyway, back to the story.

I especially liked how the strengths, weaknesses and cunning of girls is explored. Being born female automatically sets you back, and society manages to drum that into us. But how this story showcased the many ways females can empower each other as well as tear each other down was fascinating. I also loved how the push of influence drives one character to become a completely different person, and the other to develop a dependency she hadn't expected. 

Girls on Fire is an intriguing and powerful story about female friendships at their thrilling best, as well as their toxic worst. This book is beautifully written. Not just in the amazing way that it captured the confusing time that was the early 1990's, but also via the vivid imagery that throws the reader right into small town Battle Creek, and gives us a peek at the dark secrets buried beneath. At the denial so many parents cling to, the lies they tell themselves to get through the day, and how hard they fake happiness.

I loved everything about this story. The harsh truths and 'sins' of the children are sometimes hard to face, but that doesn't make them go away.

Yeah, like I said: powerful. And totally messed up.

Girls on Fire, May 2016, ISBN 9781408707111, Little, Brown

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