Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship.Read more...
Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship. The Burning Girl is a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about youth and friendship, and straddles, expertly, childhood's imaginary worlds and painful adult reality--crafting a true, immediate portrait of female adolescence.
Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions: To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.
Julia Robinson and Cassie Burnes are best friends, enjoying a carefree life on the cusp of adolescence in Royston, a sleepy town in the North Shore of Massachusetts. The unsettling changes that upend their placid existence are the subject of The Burning Girl, veteran novelist Claire Messud’s penetrating psychological thriller about “what it means to be a girl growing up.”
Julia and Cassie spend the summer before seventh grade exploring the environs of Royston, in excursions that take them to a posh country estate turned long-abandoned women’s mental asylum, among other places. But that idyllic summer—one that’s marred only by a dog bite Cassie sustains at the animal shelter where the girls volunteer—marks a turning point in a relationship in which they’ve been “conjoined all their lives,” as Julia, the novel’s narrator, describes it.
As middle school begins, Cassie falls in with a group of girls led by one whom Julia bitterly nicknames the Evil Morsel. Cassie’s life takes an even darker turn after Anders Shute, the emergency room doctor who cared for her dog bite, begins a relationship with her widowed mother. Are the disturbing changes in Cassie’s behavior—ones that lead her to question what she’s been told about her father’s death in a car accident when she was 11 months old—merely the result of Shute’s strict discipline or something more sinister?
The author of five previous novels, including The Emperor’s Children and The Woman Upstairs, Messud masterfully portrays Julia’s mounting dismay at her friend’s choices and the events they set in motion, as the girls are carried far from a time “when we could never have imagined coming unstuck.” For all the suspense Messud sustains after a desperate Cassie recklessly digs too deeply for the truth about her father’s death, the poignant depiction of the girls’ estrangement—fueled by their inevitable path toward adulthood—is an equally compelling reason to read this haunting novel.