Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is the story of two young girls who are trying to find their place in a world that values men higher than women. Poornima and Savitha are the eldest girls in their respective families in India. Chance leads the girls together where they strike up a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Poornima’s mother died when she was young, leaving her to fill the mother role to all of her younger siblings long before she was actually ready to fulfill it. Working hard to help her father provide for the family, Poornima quickly realizes that even though her family isn’t dirt poor, they’re still scraping by. To help supplement their income, Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, thus allowing Poornima’s family to bring in more money while also giving Savitha money for hers. Poornima and Savitha begin to turn to each other for comfort. Savitha’s family is more impoverished than Poornima’s, but Savitha quickly shows Poornima how to find joy and beauty in the little day to day parts of life. Savitha’s infectious personality finally allows Poornima to imagine the possibility of a fulfilling life beyond the arranged marriage her father is so desperately looking for her to fill.

Just when Poornima and Savitha have reached a comfortable rhythm, a devastating act of cruelty and violence occurs that destroys their newfound joy. As a result, Savitha is ruined and driven away from their small village. Poornima is wrecked and decides to do everything in her power to find Savitha, so they can live a happy life together. Poornima’s journey takes her away from everything that she is accustomed to and everything that she holds dear. Poornima finds herself searching India’s dark underworld for any sign of Savitha. Willing to do anything to find her, Poornima goes on a journey across India and even ends up traveling to the United States.

This novel alternates between both Poornima and Savitha’s perspectives. They have never lost hope that they will eventually find each other, even when circumstances turn dangerous. Rao tackles many urgent issues facing women across the world: immigration, feminism, human trafficking, and domestic abuse, just to name a few. These issues provide a solid foundation for Rao to explore how friendship and the will to survive can help women work towards a better, more hopeful future.


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I’ve been searching for books about women empowerment. I found The Power by Naomi Alderman popping up on a lot of 2017 award lists and decided to give it a shot. This speculative fiction fantasy novel is an expertly written piece of alternative history with a strong woman empowerment component that also serves to discuss what would happen if women and men changed roles. I was thoroughly engaged from beginning to end.

The Power by Naomi Alderman, as I discussed before, is a work of fantasy/science fiction, that takes readers down a path of alternate reality and forces them to take a closer look at our world in slightly uncomfortable and surprising ways. All across the world, lives are changing as it is discovered that teenage girls and women (really all females) have a mysterious new physical power. This power comes from within and gives them the ability to cause horrifying pain and, if pushed far enough, death. These young women find that they have the ability to release skeins of electrical current out into the world. After discovering they have such massive power, the women begin to rise up, trying to awaken the power in other women who don’t have the power yet. As expected, the whole of society begins to fall apart with the sudden shift of power from men to women. No one is sure what to do as women all over the world are finally given the ability to stand up against their aggressors.

Not everyone is so out in the open and happy with the new power and structure order. Here is where readers really gain a glimpse into the lives of four key players in the new world order: Roxy, Mother Eve, Tunde, and Margot. While there are certainly many, many other characters in this novel, these four are highlighted and discussed the most as readers follow them and discover how they are dealing with the new power and the revolution at hand.

Roxy is a London girl from a tricky family who soon discovers that the skein inside of her gives her the power of a true warrior. With her new ability, she has the power to shake the world and be whoever she wants to be.

When her power came to be, Mother Eve was living as a foster child with two very religious parents who hid their true nature behind a self-contained wall. She ran away from home and became a symbol for change called Mother Eve.

Tunde is a rich Nigerian boy who, before the skeins were discovered, only worried about hanging around the family pool. After the power shift, he finds himself traveling the world searching for stories to put out to the press.

Margot is an American politician scrabbling for a rise of government power when the women with skeins began to come out. Margot’s family and her career drastically change when she realizes that her family has been personally affected by the skeins. She must decide how she wishes to present herself to the public as she contends with a government that doesn’t necessarily feel the same way that she does.

All four of these people have important and worthy roles to play as the world seems to shift from the old normal to the old normal. I enjoyed following each character’s journey and discovering the lengths that each is willing to go to as they work to get back on their feet in a world rocked by chaos, confusion, and seemingly never-ending change.


This is also available in the following format:

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

You either love or hate John Green. There’s just no other way around it. I’m firmly in the ‘love John Green’ camp and as a result, I had been anxiously awaiting the release of his newest book, Turtles All the Way Down. He spent a good chunk of time writing this book and when press started to talk about it, I knew I would relate to the character.

Sixteen-year-old Aza has a lot going on in her life. The father of one of her childhood friends has disappeared. That would generate fuss in the community anyway, but add in the fact that the disappeared parent is a fugitive from the law and the craziness begins to snowball. Russell Pickett is a fugitive billionaire and has completely disappeared leaving the community and, more importantly, his two orphaned sons wondering where he is. When a $100,000 reward is offered, Aza and her best friend, Daisy, decide to try to figure out what happened to him. Aza used to be friends with Russell Pickett’s son, Davis, something that Daisy decides is a good omen. Aza is left to try to bridge the gap between herself and Davis.

Aza finds herself doing a lot of trying in life now. Her father died when she was younger, leaving Aza and her mom to try to cope without him. Aza is trying to be so many different things that she feels like she has lost sight of who her real self is. She is trying to be a good friend, a good student, a good daughter, but her mind never lets her be. Aza is contantly caught in a spiral of her own thoughts that gets tighter and tighter the more she tries to ignore it. Until she acknowledges these thoughts, Aza’s mind and body control her. She can’t escape. The distraction that the disappearance of Russell Pickett provides gives Aza a new escape and reintroduces herself to his son, Davis. Aza, Davis, and Daisy form a complicated friend group and Aza spends a great deal of time worrying over herself.

Turtles All the Way Down is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a teenager trying to make it through life. Aza is constantly battling the voices in her head and the spiral that threatens to overwhelm her. She knows that what she is told to do in her mind is usually wrong, but unless she listens, Aza knows she will be unable to function. This book looks deeply into mental health, resilience, the power of all types of friendship, and how love tries to reach us all. Give it a read and let me know what you think.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

princess academyMiri feels useless.  While her father, sister, and all of her peers work in the quarry mining linder all day, Miri is forced to stay out of the quarry and tend to her home.  She believes that her father keeps her home due to her small stature, and this makes her a burden for the entire Mount Eskel village. When it is announced that the prince will be choosing the next princess from among the girls of Mount Eskel, Miri believes that this is her chance to prove her worth to her father and her community.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is a gem of a book. One of the biggest criticisms of middle grade fiction is that authors often tell, rather than show. They tell the reader how to feel about a character without letting the reader get to know the character on their own.  But Hale masterfully shows the reader that Miri is moral, quick witted, funny, loyal, and strong through Miri’s words and actions.  Just like Miri, the reader is conflicted about whether she would be better off marrying the prince and getting to travel and learn or if she should return to her village that she loves to help better her people.  This is a conflict that many smart, talented young women deal with as they make their transition from hometown life, to college, and then to a career.

While there are a number of fantastic princess books from Ella Enchanted to The Secret Lives of Princesses to The Princess Knight, Hale is able to do something unique with this book.  She isn’t just presenting an internal conflict of a young woman wanting to prove herself (although that conflict plays an important role in the novel), but Hale goes beyond that to create a protagonist that understands the importance of community and family.

The Lolita Effect by M. Gigi Durham, Ph.D.

lolita-effect

I actually heard this book being recommended by Dr. Phil (not that I’m not a regular viewer). How ironic and fortunate that myself and a coworker were able to attend and hear University of Iowa professor Dr. Durham speak about her book this past February to The Women’s Connection.

The Lolita Effect, as the subtitle states, addresses the media sexualization of young girls. Dr. Durham provides many illustrations of how our culture is obsessed with these very detrimental representations (one of my favorites: major chain stores that sell junior panties that read “who needs credit cards…”). The Lolita Effect identifies and evaluates several harmful myths such as: “if you’ve got it flaunt it” and that “violence is sexy”.  Dr. Durham  presents realistic strategies for dealing with these media myths and depictions. As one reviewer stated she approaches her topic without being too “puritanical or permissive”.lolita4

While reading the Lolita Effect, I began to wonder when and how the term “Lolita” became  equivalent to the “sexy girl”. I certainly tried my best to read Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 complete and unabridged novel, Lolita. Those Russian poets are a challenge. Middle aged Paris born Humbert Humbert (yes there are two) tells the story of his obsession with a particular type of young girl that he refers to as “nymphets”. In today’s world we call folks like this pedophiles. H.H. becomes fixated on his twelve year old stepdaughter Lolita. A very intense relationship ensues. The book was met with much controversy and has been critiqued both as –  “Old Europe debauching young America, and as Young America debauching Old Europe”.

Although the namesake and topic of “sexy young girl” is the subject in both books, they are worlds apart. Durham’s book is fresh scholarly research while  Nabokov’s  is a tragicomedy still possessing classic literary status. I should get class credit!