Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Monday, 17 October 2016

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
Released: 10th May 2016
Published by: Little Brown (Imprint of Hachette)
Genre: Adult suspsense
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
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 . . .

Starting - and ending - with tragedy, Girls on Fire stands alongside The Virgin Suicides in its brilliant portrayal of female adolescence, but with a power and assurance all its own.
Thank you to Hachette Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Girls on Fire had me hooked from the first page. In this unnerving thriller, Wasserman has created a story that is suffused with an aura of vengeance, where girls turn on each other not just because of jealousy, but unbridled obsession. There are parts of this book entering territories you wouldn't think it would dare, but find that although you may want to look away before it all comes undone...those pages won't stop turning until the final, didactic end.

Hannah wanted to be invisible. Dex wanted to be seen. Dex was a rule-breaker, a liar, a secret keeper; Dex was wild, or wanted to be. Hannah Dexter had believed in right and wrong, an ordered world of justice. Dex would make her own justice. Hannah would show her how. 

What this novel excelled at is cleverly weaving multiple perspectives, each with a distinct narrative voice. Detailing the time of 'Us' from November 1991-March 1992 from both Hannah/Dex and Lacey's perspectives, it soon becomes clear just how twisted the dynamic relationships operating in this situation are. Lacey is insubordinate in every way, bordering on diabolical. Hannah's humdrum existence once letting her into her life is completely transformed. Their defiant duo is held together by a bond formed through unabashed manipulation, with an all too willing participant. Make no mistake, Wasserman's tone of prose is scorching - the whole premise for this novel is set up to keep you wanting more, discovering the hidden secrets which really drive these girls towards the fate which awaits them. As readers, when beginning this book you are lighting a match - then stand to watch it burn.

The trappings of evil were for scary movies and school assemblies; the real devil wore pink and smiled with pastel lips. And here, in the dark, we all knew who she was. 

And then there was Nikki. The resident 'golden girl' whose boyfriend took his own life. It's interesting how Dex and Lacey 'bonded' over this 'shared' ostensible virulence towards her. But who out of the trio is really the 'wolf in sheep's clothing' - that is, if any of them are? Girls on Fire searingly explores the bounds of loyalty and the devastating implications of betrayal. Emotions are powerfully expounded, chillingly expressed and manifested in ways which only these characters could accomplish. It's a tangled web of desire, defined by the 'us versus them' kind of subversive attitude that so often is depicted by adolescents today.

She was so good at it, acting cold-blooded. The secret of pretending to be someone else, she told me, was that you didn't pretend. You transformed. To defeat a monster, you had to embody one. 

I have to say, Girls on Fire definitely had shock-factor. All the while reading this, you know that something eventually will go awry. There is no way that such an intensely ferocious imbroglio would end without an explosion of some sort. And there is one. Just...not the one you may be expecting. How far will these girls go to get revenge? How deep are those scars from the past? You'll just have to read this for yourself and find out. In any case, I don't believe what eventually happened was there simply to shock the audience. The ending isn't rushed, and in the last few pages I found what the essence of this book was all about. Wasserman closes her story with words that will make you think, that leave an imprint your mind for a good while after you've closed it.

What matters isn't how we found each other, Dex, or why. It's what we did, and what happened next. Smash the right two particles together in the right way and you get a bomb. That's us, Dex. 


In Girls on Fire, flames lick the edge of the adolescent experience, lighting a trail of dangerous obsession and inexorable jealousy. Robin Wasserman's caustic prose draws in the most intense of human emotions, and places them in destructive circumstance; ultimately creating a read that you can't put down - even if you want to.

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