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The Burning Girl

Review

The Burning Girl

THE BURNING GIRL by award-winning author Claire Messud is a coming-of-age novel about a friendship that just keeps on drowning --- in doubt and comparison, depression and superficiality.

Throughout the book, Julia, the narrator, speaks with candidness about her best friend, Cassie, who acts more like a seductive manipulator than a childhood companion. One dull Massachusetts summer day, while volunteering in an animal shelter, Julia and Cassie break the rules to feel alive, leading to a dog chowing down on Cassie's arm. As a result, she's stuck in a cast put on by a "charming" doctor and the canine is put to sleep. This foreshadows the dangers that will haunt this literary work and the relationships that reside within it.

Still bored with their young adult lives, the girls break the rules again and go to a creek on the edge of town. It's here where Cassie continues to draw Julia in. When their classmate Peter approaches the girls, apologizing for his friend's mean behavior, Cassie tells Julia that she'd rather marry her than any of the boys around. Their relationship skirts on romantic, even though no romance ever evolves.

"THE BURNING GIRL is written with prose that slides off the tongue like ice. It's a cold story, one without much to hold onto but for the fact that sometimes we have to look out for ourselves."

It seems as if Julia is constantly keeping up with Cassie and her demands, afraid to get into trouble again, but also concerned that staying away from trouble will bore her companion to death. Cassie's father is dead, her mother says, but she believes he watches over her, being a string of hope during dark days. As for her mother, she's a nurse who treats Cassie more like a partner than a child, saying that it's them against the world, until it's the world against Cassie. Julia and Cassie's refuge for the summer and their little secret is an abandoned asylum. It keeps them occupied until other things occupy Cassie.

Upon going to junior high school, Cassie finds her fun and excitement. She befriends a girl Julia calls “Evil Morsel.” The deteriorating friendship between Julia and Cassie turns into an obsession as Julia constantly tries to win back Cassie's affection through invitations to hang out, yet Cassie has already made other plans. She's now the pretty girl in school and even dates Peter, Julia's longtime crush. This deepens Julia’s obsession, longing or even jealousy. Many have experienced those moments in life when their best friend breaks up with them, and they feel that loss like the end of a marriage. They can't understand why and begin to feel as if something must be wrong with them. On a daily basis, Julia notices Cassie's beautiful white hair, her slim body, and the way she changes into her sexy clothes after arriving at school. She feels bad for her yet almost wants to be her.

Cassie's mother, who has long been single, has begun dating the doctor who helped place the cast on Cassie. They met in Bible study, but Cassie finds this suspicious. He isn't from their town and has never attended their church. She wonders who he is after, and what he wants as he controls Cassie's every move, what she wears, who she speaks with on the phone, and what she searches for on the computer. Julia now wants to help her friend, questioning this man’s integrity, but Cassie isn't interested in her or her help. Perhaps Cassie's ambivalence towards Julia is what got her into this mess. Maybe abandoning the only family who offered her refuge made her life so eventful that it began crumbling into so many pieces that it wasn't a life at all.

THE BURNING GIRL is written with prose that slides off the tongue like ice. It's a cold story, one without much to hold onto but for the fact that sometimes we have to look out for ourselves. People don't always want our help. Everyone is telling himself or herself a different story.

Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on September 8, 2017

The Burning Girl
by Claire Messud

  • Publication Date: August 29, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393635023
  • ISBN-13: 9780393635027