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:
I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1: Madly Ever After by Skottie Young is a twist on the classic fairytale. This volume begins by introducing readers to Gertrude, aka Gert, a six year old who wishes she could go to a magical world full of fun and magic and laughter. Her wishes are granted and she is sucked down into Fairyland. Once there, Gertrude wishes she could go home. Queen Cloudia gives Gert a map of all of Fairyland that she has to follow in order to find a key that will open up a door back to her world. This whole process should only take her about a day and she’ll be back home with her parents.
Flash forward 27 years and Gert is still stuck in Fairyland. Scooting around Fairyland with her guardian, she’s stuck here and she hated it. Gert is trapped in her six-year-old body, but her mind has aged and felt every minute she’s been trapped in Fairyland. Using violence to get what she wants, Gert is leaving a bloody trail across this world and still hasn’t found her key. Queen Cloudia is sick of Gert and just wants her dead. Because of the fact that Gert is a visitor though, her safety is guaranteed(at least from Cloudia). Assassins track down Gert, forcing her to use whatever means necessary in order to survive.
This graphic novel is a twist between Alice in Wonderland and Deadpool with quirky and fantastical drawings with a large amount of battle-axe wielding and blood soaked gore. Gert’s journey to leave Fairyland is fantastic and leads viewers on a trippy adventure of mayhem.
The Danish Girl follows the lives and work of artists Lili Elbe and Gerda Wegener. This movie is based on the real lives of these two Lili Elbe was a transgender Danish painter, born Einar Wegener. Einar and Lili were married and lived together painting and illustrating different portraits and landscapes.
Einar Wegener was a Danish landscape painter born in 1882 who married Gerda Gottlieb when they were just 21 and 19. This movie begins with them being happily married with a loving relationship. One of the couple’s friends walks in on Gerda painting Einar as he is holding up a dress and wearing heels and tights. The friend says that they should start calling Einar, Lili instead. This name-giving serves as a sort of shift for Einar.
Einar begins dressing up more as a woman with Gerda even helping him get into character one night when they go to a party. Einar ends up in full Lili garb and this new persona is born. Einar begins treating Lili as if she is a totally separate individual from himself. Einar has begun his transformation into completely becoming Lili, something he always knew he wanted to be. Einar and Gerda’s relationship becomes strained, but they don’t stray from each other’s sides, eventually settling in Paris with Einar fully transitioning to live openly as Lili.
This movie follows Einar’s journey to Lili and how Lili struggles to accept the truth that this ‘Lili’ persona is her true an authentic self. He reveals that he is a woman, that he was simply born into the wrong body, but that it sometimes feels like he has two people in his one body and that they are both fighting to see who will take over. Einar struggles with revealing this admission because the doctors he visits sometimes either do not believe him or wish to send him to a mental institution. Lili eventually meets a doctor who tells her that he can help her become her true self through sex reassignment surgery, something she desperately wants. Gerda and Lili’s relationship evolves and changes throughout this movie as both of them struggle to deal with their new identities. This movie was sincerely eye-opening for me and the actors did a wonderful job of portraying each character.
This movie is also a book, available in a physical copy and also as an OverDrive ebook.
How to Be a Heroine, or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much is a mix between memoir and literary criticism as author Samantha Ellis realizes that maybe the heroines she modeled herself after when she was younger were not the best choices.
As a young child raised in an Iraqi-Jewish family in London, Ellis describes herself as someone who devoured books as a way to judge the characters in them for characteristics and actions she wanted to emulate. Reading this book, I found myself identifying with Ellis as I, too, looked to books as a way to test out new identities without having to fully behave the same way. Ellis realized that she had perhaps chosen the wrong heroine to try to become, so she decided to look at the female characters and writers that she had loved since childhood. What followed became this book.
As she examines these characters, who range from books such as The Little Mermaid, Anne of Green Gables, The Valley of the Dolls, as well as characters Franny Glass, Scarlett O’Hara, Lizzie Bennett, and the authors Austen, Woolf, Forster, Plath, and the Bronte sisters, Ellis realizes just how they all influenced her life and how some still do. Many other characters, authors, and books are also examined. Throughout this journey, Ellis dissects each heroine in an intriguing format that that pulls readers into both her life as a child and her life now. As she reevaluates these heroines, Ellis interjects stories from her childhood and eventually figures out just who she feels she should have looked up to back then and who she looks up to know.
Heroines, Ellis realizes, have shaped all of our lives, whether positively or negatively, and it is important to remember that growing and finding new heroines to model ourselves after is perfectly okay.
Told in two parallel stories set in different times, Random Acts of Heroic Love is about the power of love, of how it can devastate but also uplift and empower us do what might seem impossible.
In one story, Leo and his girlfriend Eleni are traveling through South America when a horrific bus accident takes Eleni’s life. Nearly crushed by guilt and grief, Leo tries to make sense of his loss by seeking answers through science, but the weight of being left behind is almost too much.
The second story takes place in Poland where shortly after Moritz and Lotte declare their love, Moritz is swept into the horrors of the First World War. Captured by the Russians and sent to prison camp in Siberia, he is literally thousands of miles from home. After escaping from the camp, Moritz undertakes the arduous journey back to his beloved.
At first the stories are so disconnected that you may wonder what the author is up to, but about two-thirds of the way through things begin to come together, rewarding the reader with a poignant examination of love and redemption across time and distance.