Today’s feature is The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud, a bracing, hypnotic coming-of-age story about the bond of best friends, from the New York Times best-selling author of The Emperor’s Children.
Intro: You’d think it wouldn’t bother me now. The Burneses moved away long ago. Two years have passed. But still, I can’t lie in the sun on the boulders at the quarry’s edge, or dangle my toes in the cold, clear water, or hear the other girls singing, without being aware the whole time that Cassie is gone. And then I want to say something—but you can’t, you know. It’s like she never existed.
Teaser: The path, such as it was, would seem to come and go, and the greenery overhead became more dense, the sun more obscured, as if we were going ever deeper into the woods. I tried to trace a mental map—we turned right at the broad rotted stump, we bore left where the two maple trunks had grown intertwined, we kept the water behind our left ears and its gurgly sound came near, and retreated, and came again. (p.58).
Synopsis: 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.
What do you think? Do the excerpts draw you in? Would you keep reading?