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The Burning Girl

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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.

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.

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.

247 pages, Hardcover

First published August 29, 2017

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About the author

Claire Messud

47 books721 followers
Claire Messud is an American novelist and literature and creative writing professor. She is best known as the author of the 2006 novel The Emperor's Children. She lives with her husband and family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Born in Greenwich, Connecticut, Messud grew up in the United States, Australia, and Canada, returning to the United States as a teenager. Messud's mother is Canadian, and her father is French from French Algeria. She was educated at Milton Academy, Yale University, and Cambridge University, where she met her spouse, the British literary critic James Wood. Messud also briefly attended the MFA program at Syracuse University.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,520 reviews
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
September 7, 2017
I'm between 2.5 and 3 stars, so I'll round up.

The friendships we form when we are younger often have a profound effect on our lives, even into adulthood. And although I can't speak from experience, it's often been said that female friendships, particularly those forged during adolescence and the teenage years, can be tremendously intense, providing special memories and, in some cases, inflicting emotional pain.

Cassie and Julia have been friends for as long as they can remember—since nursery school. They've always been an inseparable part of each other's lives, and have shared their secrets, fears, desires, and dreams. The summer before seventh grade they spend volunteering at the local animal shelter, hiking in the woods outside their small Massachusetts town, and secretly visiting the abandoned asylum in the woods, imagining the lives of those imprisoned there.

But little by little, things change between Cassie and Julia that summer, and into the school year that followed, when the two are assigned to different academic levels, and Cassie makes new friends who encourage her to act in a more rebellious manner, and develop relationships with boys. Julia feels the loss of Cassie palpably and can't seem to figure out what went wrong, wishing that things could return to how they were before.

"It's a different story depending on where you start: who's good, who's bad, what it all means. Each of us shapes our stories so they make sense of who we think we are. I can begin when Cassie and I were best friends; or I can begin when we weren't anymore; or I can begin at the dark end and tell it all backward."

Even though they barely speak, Julia keeps tabs on Cassie through a mutual friend. She learns that Cassie's relationship with her mother has become tenuous since her mother found a boyfriend, a man who makes Cassie tremendously uncomfortable in her own home and who convinces her mother to become even more restrictive of Cassie's freedoms. And as her home life continues to deteriorate, Cassie leans on the one thing she has always depended on, the memories of her dead father, and even that doesn't provide the security it once did.

The Burning Girl is more than the exploration of how intensely an adolescent friendship can affect us throughout our lives, but it also is a reflection on how well we can truly know a person we have grown up and shared so much with. At the same time, this book shows the sometimes painful realization between daydreams and realities, and reminds us that sometimes we need to be saved even if we don't want to be.

While I like the way Claire Messud writes (and I'm a big fan of a number of her earlier books, including When the World Was Steady, The Last Life , and The Emperor's Children ), this book really didn't wow me. I feel that this story has been told many times before.

I'm never particularly enamored of when crucial events in a book are relayed third-hand, that the protagonist told one person, who told the narrator, who then shared what they had learned. It often made me wonder whether the story was actually reliable, or whether there were threads I should doubt. I also tend to get frustrated when a book's plot is advanced more by conjecture and assumption than actually witnessing events taking place.

There are powerful moments of longing, emotion, and betrayal in The Burning Girl , but they weren't quite enough to generate a lot of passion. I also was thankful that Messud avoided taking the plot in one direction I feared she might.

Perhaps the fact that I never quite had a friendship like this (and I'm not a female) might have dulled the book's power for me, so if this sounds intriguing, I'd encourage you to pick this book up.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,155 reviews1,696 followers
May 23, 2022

Non c’era nulla di rabbioso o crudele nel nostro allontanamento, non per lei. Era come se io fossi un paio di vecchie scarpe e lei ne avesse un paio nuove e più sciccose; non le veniva in mente di indossare quelle vecchie, ma non per questo le buttava via.

Le cose finiscono. Prima o poi, le cose finiscono. Amori e, anche, amicizie.
Prima o poi tanti amori e molte amicizie finiscono.
La ragazza brucia (le ragazze e i ragazzi bruciano) forse perché si chiama Burnes, ma soprattutto perché è un’adolescente. E l’adolescenza è l’età del fuoco, bruciare fa parte del gioco, di quel periodo di crescita e trasformazione e perdita.

A volte avevo l’impressione che crescere e diventare una ragazza significasse imparare ad avere paura. Non a essere paranoica, no, ma sempre sull’attenti, come se dovessi conoscere tutte le uscite di sicurezza di un cinema o quelle antincendio di un albergo. A differenza di quand’eri piccola, scoprivi che il tuo corpo era vulnerabile, fortificato ma con qualche punto debole.

Claire Messud alza un buon numero di palle: ma, o le alza troppo in alto o sbaglia il tempo della schiacciata finendo col limitarsi a un semplice rilancio nel campo avversario. Quasi una finta.
Ci sono buoni spunti narrativi in questo romanzo: il manicomio abbandonato con le sue possibili storie di segregazione, malattia, follia; la mamma di Cassie angelo della misericordia, oppure della morte, dipende dal punto di vista, e lei si porta in casa un angelo della freddezza; violenza, abuso, pedofilia, fuga; ragazze più o meno interrotte, bambine che crescono, il passaggio d’età… Ma si smarriscono, non vengono portati fino in fondo, si abbandonano prima del loro pieno sviluppo per mancanza d’intensità.
Alla fine, tutto sommato, una storia come tante, e senza particolare consistenza.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews42 followers
September 5, 2017
"Oh brother"....
"I try to imagine feeling lonely and the way she felt lonely, then. I'm not sure I can do that. I'm a dog and she was a cat: I slobbery and keen; she, self-contained and ultimately private. For so many years it didn't matter; but then she was alone. In her feline nature, and lonely. I should have been able to sense how it was. She was too proud to tell me, or Peter for that matter; and I was too proud and too wounded to look".

Like I said.... "oh brother"! The above excerpt is just not the type of writing I can read without rolling my eyes --turning into a teenager here myself - and not proud of it.

With 4 wonderful books about friendship from early childhood into adulthood--with all of the many things that can happen...by Elena Ferrante... Claire Messud took a huge risk writing about a coming-of-age -girl's friendship - gone astray- novel.
Given Claire Messud - herself is such a wonderful writer - I thought it was possible her risk would pay off....

Then I saw Bonnie's early review- way back -her 2 star review ( she read an early reader ARC).... I was worried, but still hopeful and pre-ordered this book.

Its very hard to believe Claire Messud wrote this. The ending had some depth - but I felt there was a stronger story to tell between the mothers & daughters than the girls relationship. There friendship was too weak to begin with. Comparing each other to cats and dogs? That's reaching!!!

2 stars
Profile Image for Linda.
1,231 reviews1,279 followers
August 13, 2017
Life seems to distance even the most solid of friendships.

We all remember the ebb and flow of childhood memories. That friend. That one friend who was so aligned in our thoughts from morning until night and beyond. That person who breathed in every ounce of our persona and kept secrets as still as death.

Julia and Cassie were bonded together since they were very small children living in the town of Royston, Massachusetts. Royston, never highlighted on anyone's travel map, encompassed its community in small town living and small town mentalities. A good time was spent trying out nail polish at the Rite Aid drug store or watching storefronts close up on Main Street.

Although tightly wound in friendship, Julia and Cassie are far different in their appearances, their dreams, and their family backgrounds. Julia's mother writes for magazines and her father is a dentist with his office a few feet from their home. Cassie's mom is a hospice nurse who drops Cassie off every day at Julia's house as she rushes to work. Cassie's father supposedly died when she was a baby. He is an elusive presence in Cassie's life and one that plays out throughout this story.

Claire Messud develops her storyline along the lines of an undying friendship that seems to breathe its last. The strength of the telling is in its early stages when the young girls find adventures in the out-of-bounds swimming hole and the boarded up asylum at the edge of town. They seem to fill the void for each other that exists in that uncertain rough terrain of early adolescence. Where one steps low the other braces for the fall.

As time passes, the girls eventually are separated into different sub-groups of school classes, friend choices, and questions of mistrust. They appear to drift in and out of each other's lives and stark differences in maturity start to rise. There doesn't seem to be that soft place to land anymore.

We, the readers, will take note of a deep transformation in the character of Cassie. There is a dark, smouldering ember of something burning away inside of her that Julia no longer recognizes. And the question becomes more pronounced: Do we yet have an impact on the ties that bind us together?

Although a fine read by Messud, I felt caught up by an overabundance of detail at the beginning of the story, line by line. Long ramblings needed pause. As the story progressed, this was replaced by a somewhat elusive style of innuendo and brief suggestions. Cassie was, indeed, coming undone without the tried-and-true safety net that we all beg to be surrounded in. A slamming of a vehicle door (which you will notice at the end) is a cold reality. And do we have the opportunity to pick up cards after the ones we've been dealt?

I received a copy of The Burning Girl through Goodreads for an honest review. My thanks to W.W. Norton & Company and to Claire Messud for the opportunity.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,770 reviews4,248 followers
August 28, 2017
Oh, I just ate this up, I wish it had been two, three, four times longer. In lesser hands it could so easily have been a 'so what?' book – two teenage girls fall out, one of them has a more fraught family situation than the other – so what? More than anything else I have read this year, The Burning Girl demonstrates how effortlessly a brilliant writer can elevate tired subject matter.

Of all the books I had on my wishlist for the second half of 2017, The Burning Girl was the one I regarded with the greatest amount of trepidation. As much as Messud's The Woman Upstairs got under my skin, the plot of this one – two teen girls, a small town, the eruption of adolescence, a friendship lost – didn't exactly bode well. After disliking or abandoning a clutch of them, I've been making efforts to avoid these 'girls gone wild' novels; they've become a bit of a trend, perhaps not as ubiquitous as the Gone and Train type of Girls but equally profuse and patchy. When I read Beryl Bainbridge's 1972 novel Harriet Said... at the beginning of the year, I was reminded (yes, I am quoting myself here, sorry) 'how few adult authors are capable of capturing the nuances of girlhood, and how exhilarating it is when someone gets it right'.

Messud tells her characters' story in flashback, but Julia Robinson isn't an adult – she's seventeen years old, about to decide which college she wants to go to, just a couple of years removed from the events she describes. This makes her raw anguish, the way she is still picking over the bones of her lost friendship with mercurial Cassie Burnes, all too real. At the same time, it strips the story of any cheap nostalgic power. These girls' youth is one of Katy Perry songs and YouTube tutorials; the most retro detail is Cassie being the only person in her family to own a smartphone. Presumably, there's a tendency for authors to frame these girlhood tales within an older character's perspective to avoid them being interpreted as stories for teenagers. There's no danger of that here – the quality of Messud's writing and the depth of her character-building tells you all you need to know.

There is no preamble, no exposition. We're straight into Julia's point of view, a vivid account of her friendship with Cassie during that coming-of-age period between the beginning and middle of their teens, a time in which the girls go from playing make-believe games in an abandoned house (and what an extraordinarily evocative scene that is!) to growing apart amid the trappings of nascent adulthood: boys, parties and intricate social politics. While Julia and Cassie's relationship takes centre stage, this is just as much a story about mothers and daughters. Julia comes from a liberal yet deeply caring family, and is close to her mother, a journalist. Cassie's relationship with her nurse mom Bev is more complicated: a tight bond, but also an unhealthily codependent one. When Bev begins dating a God-fearing doctor named Anders Shute, Cassie withdraws, becomes depressed and erratic. At the same time, the story of Cassie's late father – which she has embellished until it has reached the status of personal legend – seems to unravel.

It's part and parcel of being a teenager that inconsequential things seem huge while events that may be life-changing barely register, at least not immediately. Messud knows this, and she depicts it with the dexterity of a true master. This book is full of darkness and foreboding but it glimmers with the impermanence of youth – perhaps the most terrifying element of the story is that it is not over, yet this is the exact same thing that offers the most hope. The Burning Girl possesses an irresistible momentum, delightful and sickening at the same time, that kept me glued to it – just one more page, and another, and another, until I'd burned (ha) through it before I knew it. It is just glorious.

I received an advance review copy of The Burning Girl from the publisher through Edelweiss.

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Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,421 followers
May 27, 2017
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Claire Messud, and the publisher, Fleet, for this opportunity.

Cassie and Julia were best friends. Past tense. Every one of their memories involved the other, but all that inexplicably changed. A rift formed between the two and neither could exactly place the moment it happened. The distance between them expanded as they grew, until passing greetings and fake smiles in the school corridor summed up the entirety of their interaction. But when Cassie needs help it seems Julia is the only know who knows how to save her. Whether Cassie wants to be saved is another question entirely, however.

Books focusing on the intricacies of teen girl friendships are my favourite type of stories. I find these topics infinitely compelling due to the complexity and intensity of emotion exhibited by the characters. This book was proof of that fact.

This tenuous friendship is viewed from Julia's perspectives and she recounts both their past shared memories and her current individual ones. To view the pair's once closeness in comparison to their current separate existences heightens the reader's understanding of all that has been lost. I think much of the book's emotion would have been absent if the reader had not been given the multiple chances to relive their lives through Julia's sequence of flashbacks. I also don't believe either character would have been so rounded and authentic, as they each worked to create each other, in the way only the best of friendships can do.

The book circled itself in a suspenseful chain of events that led to the final climatic scene. Everything I feared would transpire almost did and Messud kept me guessing about how the novel would actually conclude right up until the moment it actually did. The ending was the novel's crowing glory and incorporated all the seemingly unrelated stories and memories into one cohesive and thrilling whole.
Profile Image for Cesar.
355 reviews235 followers
January 30, 2018
2 stars

In hindsight, I should’ve listened more to the reviews from other people about this book. I have read books that have gotten mixed reviews and for the most part, I did like them while there were others I did not like.

However, I was not a fan of The Burning Girl.


When I first heard the premise for The Burning Girl, I was hoping it would be one of those books with a very complicated, if not, toxic friendship. If you guys know me, I am a huge Megan Abbott fan. Her books go well into detail about the complications of friendships between teenage girls. So, I thought The Burning Girl would have that.


Except I was wrong. Instead, I got a long-winded story about why Julia and Cassie stopped being friends. It wasn’t anything complicated. They just stopped being friends and some things happened along the way. Very disappointing.

It happened before when I read Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman. Both books I was disappointed in because of their lackluster plot and characters.

The Burning Girl is not a bad book, but there was a lot of flaws in the story.

I might as well start off with the negatives first.

For a short book, it felt long. It’s only 247 pages but it read like I was reading a 400-page book sometimes. I have heard that Claire Messud’s writing can be longwinded and her sentences are long. Notably, I saw the reviews from her other novel, The Emperor's Children saying it was longwinded as well. I now understand what they mean. There were many sentences that went on for too long describing a certain scene or even straying away from the story to describe something else. It took forever for the story to progress.


The characters themselves were not that interesting nor did they give off any shock value to the story. We get a hint of what Julia and Cassie are like but it’s muddled down as the story progresses. Sure, Cassie gets into trouble but even then, her character didn’t have much change. Both remained static up until the very end.

Sometimes, there were characters thrown into the story and were out in a matter of a couple of pages, as if they didn’t have much of an impact on the story. Messud mentions them at one point and is forgotten in the next. To me, I didn’t understand why she put them there if they were going to be discarded eventually. It didn’t make much sense in the long run considering how short the story is.

The one major flaw I had with the story was how it was presented. Just by reading the synopsis, you would expect a story about a complicated and possibly toxic friendship.What you get instead is Julia telling word for word how their friendship ended without any major drama. Combine that with the writing format and you might as well be reading a textbook explaining the causes of WWII. Just one big explanation.

I was hoping for something good but got something bad.


The one good thing I will have to give credit for is how at some parts of the book, I was intrigued by the plot and I wanted to know what would happen. That itself prevented me from giving this a 1-star rating.


The premise does seem interesting, but don’t get your hopes up. What I got was a story with too many descriptions and long sentences, characters that didn’t change for the good, a slow plot, and straightforward narrative with no drama. This is not a story of a complicated friendship. Which is sad because this story had all the ingredients to be a good story. Sadly, it was not.

Thanks for reading my review!

Profile Image for Jill.
1,169 reviews1,645 followers
June 5, 2017
The Burning Gil is a novel that never really catches fire. It’s a fable-of-sorts of two young girls – Julia and Cassie – who were once “besties” in Roylton, Massachusetts, and who diverge on different paths as they enter an uncertain adolescence, driven by vastly different expectations.

It is those expectations that shape the destiny of these two girls: “You only see what you expect to see. Your brain lets the rest go.” Cassie, early on, is consigned to the ranks of the disappeared—“all those girls and women snatched by loners or neighbors, battered by fathers, dismembered by jilted lovers, raptured from the bike path or the shopping mall or the late-night bus stop to an invisible and unimagined and nonexistent hereafter…”

So yes, we, as readers, suspect early on that Cassie will end up being one of “those girls” while her friend Julia will thrive. As in many fables, there’s a leering stepfather who may (or may not) be up to no good, plenty of unsubstantiated rumors, and a constant yearning on Cassie’s part for a father she never knew

Julia and Cassie are emblemic, and therefore, the book is really less about these girls and more about what it means to be a girl – growing up learning to be afraid, choosing to don a “poisoned cloak” that can kill rather than liberate, recognizing that at the end of the day, we may be powerless to save ourselves let alone each other. It’s also about our yearning for a story with an arc – motives, climax, resolution—and what happens when a so-called victim doesn’t fall into that tidy trajectory and strains against her own story.

I am not the kind of reader who needs or relies on a story arc, but still, I wanted something more. I’ve restlessly tried to explore what was missing for me, and I think it’s the push-pull between the fable and more grounded elements of the story. The coming-of-age story – two girls who grow apart and embrace their individual destinies – is not unique; what is unique is how Ms. Messud works to universalize the story and provide it with resonating truths. Thanks to W.W. Norton for an early reading copy.

Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews908 followers
November 27, 2017
I loooove Claire Messud's writing! This short novel is about two girls, Julia and Cassie, who have been best friends since nursery school. As they enter their pre-teen years, the friendship becomes fractured and the girls' paths begin to diverge. The narrator, Julia, is the girl from the stable two-parent home, the good student, the cautious introvert. Cassie is the fragile girl from the wrong side of the tracks, the girl who has a perpetual dark cloud following her every move and who seems to be headed nowhere fast. I thought the girls' tangled bond was very relatable and the writing stellar.

The first three quarters of the book was mesmerizing. Then Messud started in with the "woo-woo" philosophical stuff and lost me. I just wanted to know what happened to the girls, you know?

At the end of the day, I always go for the writing over the story, so upping this 3.75 story to a 4.

Recommended for fans of Messud.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,035 reviews48.5k followers
August 22, 2017
Claire Messud's slim novel “The Burning Girl” is a kind of teen companion to “The Woman Upstairs,” her 2013 masterpiece about adult female friendship. It's flush with contemplation about the effects of time and class on young people’s lives.

The narrator is a girl named Julia who’s been best friends with Cassie since the beginning. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know her,” Julia explains in the foreboding opening pages. “Both only children, we said that the other was the sister we never had.” For years, the differences between their circumstances are invisible to them both, or so Julia imagines. It doesn’t matter that she has a mother and a father, who make a nice living, while Cassie’s mother is a widow struggling by on a hospice nurse’s. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Trudie.
526 reviews563 followers
November 4, 2017
* 4.5 *

It's so so satisfying, finding yourself enjoying a book you never intended to read, by an author you had decided was not for you. Its the joy of expectations surpassed. You feel ashamed of your haughty preconceptions based on friends middling reviews and the inexplicable 3.36 branding. Somewhere around the third paragraph all your resistance is broken down and you spend the entire novel ruminating on why you have never read Claire Messud before now.

The book is in three parts, in an interview with Messud she says

I think of the first as "Childhood" and the second almost as "Time Passes". You know like the middle section of "To the Lighthouse". And the third as, if not "Adulthood" then some version of it

Part One of this book has this beautiful elegiac, end of summer, end of a friendship feel to it that I haven't seen replicated so perfectly in a novel before. I related to these two girls on so many levels even though they are about to be teenagers circa 2013. The universality of that experience of transitioning from the freedom of childhood into a menacing and dimly understood adulthood was just so beautifully handled here.

I did think early on that this book was going to go in a certain direction and I am delighted it flirted with my expectations in that regard but ultimately left things unknowable.

I agree with Hannah Pittard in her analysis that

More than anything — more especially than a plot-driven novel — The Burning Girl strikes me as a highly refined rumination on girlhood

And therein might lie some of the disappointment with this book for some readers, who might be led to expect more of a girl goes missing type drama.

My only reasoning for not giving this the full 5-stars as I intended to do for most of the novel, was for some awkwardness in the story towards the end. The third-hand telling of Cassie's story ( Cassie told Peter, who told it to Julia who tells it to us ) is laborious to read and I did keep thinking how do we know all this is true ? and then I decided that was rather the point, but unfortunately it still made for some awkward passages.

It is quite illuminating to read various interviews with Claire Messud as she talks about gender-specific anxiety and I was impressed with how she managed to convey this in subtle and real ways in this novel without resorting to the acts of violence themselves. The menace is eluded to and it's up to the reader to decide how real it is. Which makes this book for me one to ponder over and eventually come back to for a reread.

This section is a fantastic example of some on point observations by Messud.

Sometimes I felt that growing up and being a girl was about learning to be afraid. Not paranoid, exactly, but always alert and aware, like checking out the exits in the movie theater or the fire escapes in a hotel. You came to know, in a way you hadn’t as a kid, that the body you inhabited was vulnerable, imperfectly fortified. On TV, in the papers, in books and movies, it isn’t ever men being raped or kidnapped or bludgeoned or dismembered or burned with acid. But in stories and crime shows and TV series and movies and in life, too, it’s going on all the time, all around you. So you learn, in your mind, that your body needs to be protected. It’s both precious and totally dispensable, depending on whom you encounter

Obviously, I loved this reading experience and I am so thrilled I still have more of Claire Messuds works to explore. I also learnt an important lesson - ignore GR average ratings ;)

( Ursula K La Guin writes a good review here in The Guardian ).
Profile Image for JR is Reading.
33 reviews31 followers
April 21, 2017
The best book I've read in 2017 so far.

Julie and Cassie have been friends since nursery school and shared everything, but as they enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter their friendship.

Julie narrates this story, letting you, the reader, know that what she is telling you is a terrible secret. She is desperate to help Cassie even as she pulls away from her, but in trying to save her she may betray her in the most intimate way possible.

This book is simple in its appearance – it’s plot, while gripping, is a tale we’ve heard before - but you’ll find layers of complexity that speak to several vital questions: how well can we really know another person, even our closest friends; how we construct stories about ours and others’ lives – stories that can smother and destroy; and – incredibly important for our times - how we teach young women to be afraid.

This book is hypnotic, evocative, and so incredibly insightful into the fact that growing up and being a girl is about learning to be afraid and the fact that you come to know, in a way you don’t as a kid, that your body is vulnerable, imperfectly fortified – that it’s both precious and totally dispensable, depending on whom you encounter.
Profile Image for Bonnie Brody.
1,193 reviews187 followers
June 13, 2017
I really anticipated this new novel by Claire Messed. Her last book, 'The Woman Upstairs', was an inimitable character study of two female artists and a horrific act of betrayal. I have found her to be a writer of substance and perspicacity. However, this book didn't live up to my expectations.

Cassie and Julia meet when they are in pre-school and remain very close until junior high, at which time their paths diverge. The novel explores their friendship, especially the very close connection that Julia feels to Cassie. They come from different backgrounds and their family values are not always congruent. The book follows their games, imaginative play and Julia's grief as Cassie begins to drift away from her.

What bothered me most was that so many things were hinted at but there was no closure. The novel explores a certain darkness and intensity in Cassie's life, especially her lifelong desire to find out who her father was and her tendency towards risky behaviors. However, the book just drifts along and as I waited for something to unfold that would grab me, I kept waiting. There are no epiphanies and there are no sharp turns. It felt more like a writing exercise than a novel.
Profile Image for Ola Al-Najres.
383 reviews1,127 followers
March 9, 2020
تحيتي واعتذاري للكاتبة ، فبرغم رهافة السرد و التدفق اللطيف للقصة و استمتاعي الهادئ في بعض الفصول ، إلا أنه حين يكون الحديث عن صديقتين منسجمتين متنافرتين ، و تتبُع حياتيهما من الطفولة إلى المراهقة و الشباب ، و اقتحام عوالم نسائية تقبع خلف الستار ، بل واختفاء احداهما في نهاية الأمر ... ، أقول حين تدور الدائرة حول هذا الموضوع بالذات فإنني أعتبر نفسي موسومة بطابع العزيزة إيلينا فيرانتي و لا يمكنني النظر إلى مثل هذه الحكايات إلا باعتبارها مسخ أو صورة مشوّهة عن فتاتيّ نابولي الشهيرتين . 😊
Profile Image for Bill Kupersmith.
Author 1 book196 followers
November 9, 2017
Set in a quiet town north of Boston, The Burning Girl is a bittersweet story of transition from childhood to adolesence. Cassie & Julia (Juju) have been friends since preschool - by ninth grade they'll be acquaintances. Actually it's not unusual to get a whole bunch of new friends in high school (I did). As I remarked of Megan Abbott's Dare Me, it's a bit odd in mid-teens to have the same BF you had in 2nd grade. Still, I found this such a moving story of a friendship seen from the POV of the one who gets dumped. (Ironically, the friend of superior social & educational standing.) It's painful to watch Cassie & Juju become estranged. The earlier scenes of the friendship, especially the discovery of the abandoned asylum which becomes the girls' imaginary castle, were so affecting. The section in which Cassie takes off for Maine in search of her father was heart wrenching. If a girl as courageous & attractive as Cassie came into my life insisting I was her dad, I think I'd be tempted to accept the honor whatever the reality. Tho' the bitter outweighed the sweet in this story, I'm consoled by the thought that it ends with Julia but 17. The girls are still at a very early stage in their formation & there's a whole lifetime available for them to renew their relationship. This book is a little too slight for the whole five stars, but what's there is so poignant.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,430 reviews997 followers
September 2, 2017
The Burning Girl is a beautifully written and really engaging coming of age tale, following the ups and downs of the friendship between Julia and Cassie – once inseparable, then peripheral, it is a story of growing up and growing apart.

Told from Julia’s point of view, we meet the girls when they are young, a little wild at times, but utterly joined, neither of them can imagine a time or a life without the other in it. But sometimes nurture tells, Cassie has a very different home and family life to Julia, as they reach high school and beyond it becomes apparent that both are faced with very different choices.

I loved this story – I was rooting for both Julia and Cassie – and Claire Messud brought them both to vivid life on the page even though we were seeing through one filtered eye. Julia loves her friend even when they are no longer close, ultimately though the hard truths hit her, you can’t save everybody. The friendship between them dies slowly and there is no one point that you can say there, its done. The descriptive prose is hugely immersive, the community in which they live, the people around them, all the little ups and downs that affect how they are, all come into play and this is somewhat of a page turner.

Mostly I found it to be hugely insightful. It got me thinking back to those friends I remember from my young years who have fallen by the wayside with no great fanfare. There one day, gone the next, you may never know how their lives play out. The feelings that Julia has about her friendship with Cassie hits home on more than one level and whilst Claire Messud uses a slightly more dramatic set of events than might be usual to show this dying friendship, it is authentically believable.

By the end of The Burning Girl I was slightly melancholy, inclined to think about my own coming of age and where it lead me, this is thought provoking and very very real.

Definitely recommended.
Profile Image for Amanda NEVER MANDY.
454 reviews98 followers
September 5, 2017
**I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.**

Some memories have teeth.

People are quick to tell you all about the shock felt when life decides to change in the blink of an eye but fail to mention the burning sting of what the hell happened when you finally realize that life has been running a long con on you the whole damn time. While you were busy worrying over those “shocking” sudden changes, life was busy tweaking this that and the other, until what you know is no longer what you have and what you thought you wanted is no longer on the table.

This is the story of two girls that have a friendship that can rival any other. Bonded at the eye color blue, life sisters even though they aren’t from the same family tree. We are brought into the story by Miss Julia who introduces us to her friend Cassie by telling us about the best last summer that ever was (as each summer always is when you are young and living in the moment). All seems well until one minor shock reshapes a summer and opens the door to so much more.

I enjoyed the hell out of this book because of what it stirred up in my own personal memories. It perfectly captured that childlike innocence, memories of how things used to be when a day spent sitting in a tree house with your closest friends was all you lived for until…it just wasn’t. Here is where the memories with teeth and life’s slow con comes in to play. If I knew then what I know now I would have held tight to those fleeting moments that unfairly felt like I had an eternity to enjoy.

Well-written, emotionally packed story…LOVED this read.
Profile Image for Claire.
823 reviews177 followers
November 26, 2017
This was really quite an exceptional read for me, although it has met some notably mixed reviews. The takeaway point is, this is not a novel for everyone- especially not if you enjoy plot-driven narratives. Messud's novel is thematically coherent and effectively structured. In the words of Messud's narrator Julia this novel is about "what it means to be a girl growing up." Structurally, the three part narrative allows Messud to explore this theme through one adolescent friendship; seeing Cassie and Julia from girlhood to adulthood. The transition depicted is an introspective and messy one, but elements of it remain recognisable to us all. Messud's writing is stark and measured, at times elegiac. In the end, I found it quite hard to fault this- my greatest complaint was the lapse in tone in the early section of part 3...but Messud drew this together again for an effective and reflective conclusion. In the end Messud's meditation on girlhood and growing up really nailed it for me.
Profile Image for Rae Meadows.
Author 7 books408 followers
January 16, 2018
Oh, so very disappointed in this book. I loved Messud's last novel and I think she is a great writer. But this book missed the mark. It's about the friendship between two girls that eventually falls apart but it feels familiar. Better than, say, Girls on Fire, but not at all as good as Ferrante. The Burning Girl felt a little thin, with not much payoff. Messud pushed hard on the theme of stories we tell ourselves but it didn't quite mesh. There is also a very forced plot device (the asylum caretaker for those who have read it) and some backstory that goes no where. Surprising that this novel wasn't better but I hope Messud comes roaring back with a next book.
September 21, 2017
Although prior to reading The Burning Girl I wasn’t aware of Claire Messud’s impressive reputation as a writer, I was intrigued by the huge amount of reviews that appeared for this novel across the literary press and was keen to see if Messud could bring anything fresh to the rather overdone genre of female friendship. Disappointingly, I found The Burning Girl rather a non-event which never came close to the searing coming of age story that I was expecting and for much of the novel I was waiting for something dramatic to occur. However, in the main this is simply a teenager Julia Robinson’s reluctant recognition that she has lost her first best-friend, Cassie Burnes. Narrated in entirety by Julia as she enters her senior year of high school, she reflects on how the Burneses (Cassie and hospice care nurse mother, Bev) left the small town of Royston, Massachusett’s over two-years-ago and yet the inseparable friendship of childhood still weighs heavy on her mind.
“My mother assures me that it happens to everyone, sooner or later, for reasons more or less identifiable; everyone loses a best friend at some point. Not in the ‘she moved to Tucson’ sense, but in the sense that ‘we grew apart’.”

According to Julia and Cassie’s mothers, they met in the second week of nursery when they formed a friendship, became the sisters they each never had and on occasions seems to act as a single entity. However in all other ways, both physically, behaviourally and in terms of background, they are diametrically opposed. Julia is a gifted, mature and obedient girl by the time the “sisters” pass into seventh grade with a middle-class background, a dentist father, a freelance journalist mother and a large house. Meanwhile Cassie is a rule-breaker, with an unreliable mother, no idea of her father's identity, muddles along at school and will try anything once. When their paths start to diverge in seventh grade it feels like a routine fact of life as an individual begins to gain a sense of their identity and different attitudes and values start to emerge. After a summer of seeming umbilically linked - from roaming in the woods, exploring the quarry, volunteering at an animal shelter and culminating in play acting in an former asylum - the increasing distance between the two is a devastating blow for Julia. Part One focuses on that summer and reading between the lines it seems that Julia values the friendship more than Cassie, who decides upon their adventures and seems to take the lead in making decisions. It is this summer that Cassie first encounters Dr Anders Shute, the ER doctor with a distinct lack of bedside manner and Messud emphasises this incipient meeting, hence it is no surprise when he appears further on in the story.

Part Two captures Cassie’s gradual drift away from Julia, to an edgier crowd and sees her start to date Peter, an older boy who Julia has had a crush on from afar. Whilst the novel is simply a rather ordinary tale of two young girls growing apart, much of the narrative from Julia (sixteen-years-old) seems rather overblown. As Julia finds herself a new social circle and a place on the school debating team, she still maintains a bizarre interest in Cassie’s life. Whilst the reader becomes aware that Cassie is one of those girls who knows exactly how to play allies off against one another and manipulate Julia, she never seems to learn this lesson. As unsettling Dr Anders Shute begins dating Cassie’s mother, Bev, after meeting her at bible classes and subsequently moves in, Cassie veers to the wild side, breaks curfew, comes home drunk and this marks the start of a fractious relationship between mother and daughter. At this point Cassie invests everything in the imaginary father who she sees as her salvation. Very little of this information is shared first hand between the two girls, but comes via hearsay through Peter or through Julia’s own supposition as she remains convinced that Cassie is desperate to reach out and rekindle their friendship. At times it feels like Julia wants to write herself into Cassie’s story and whilst the closing moments do in some respects see the former friends fates entwined, the haunting events leave the reader contemplating the ruins of a friendship.

Aside from the unwarranted emotional angst for what is effectively a standard experience for every child during the awkward school years, the astute psychological insights on friendships, the vulnerabilities of females and the masks and disguises that an individual shows the world make The Burning Girl a thoroughly worthwhile read.
“Sometimes I felt that growing up and being a girl was about learning to be afraid. Not paranoid, exactly, but always alert and aware, like checking out the exits in the movie theatre or the fire escape in a hotel. You came to know, in a way you hadn't as a kid, that the body you inhabited was vulnerable, imperfectly fortified.”

There are some brilliant soundbites that cause the reader to reflect and it is these and not the fairly pedestrian story that packs the punch. Whilst The Burning Girl didn’t bring anything new to the topic of female friendship it is well worth reading if only for some of the wonderfully on-point turns of phrase and will ensure I seek out some of Messud’s earlier novels.

With thanks to reviewer, Miriam Smith, for sharing this book.
Profile Image for Madeline Puckett.
359 reviews5 followers
January 29, 2018
It's rare for me to give a 1-star rating, but I truly feel this novel deserved it.

1. It was poorly written

a.) The narrative structure was all over the place. I never understood the timeline/timeframe in this novel. In each "Part", the timing jumps around with no explanation, and for no reason. We have no sense of the age of the narrator/when she is telling the story vs. when it is happening. There were even holes in the description of the timeframe when Cassie went missing, which was confined within a week of time. How did the author manage to make THAT confusing? She did.
I simply cannot understand how these huge, confusing gaps in the timeline made it through the editing process.

b.) The dialogue was terrible. It was unrealistic, awkward, choppy, and jarring. The dialogue between the teenagers and adults, the dialogue amongst teenagers, and the adult-to-adult dialogue was all atrocious. At one point, one teenager tells another to "Go home. Take the day." in the tone of a corporate executive speaking to an employee.
There are also random expletives thrown in. When Cassie calls her mom a "f***ing lying fat c***", I think I actually made a face of disbelief as I read it. Expletives can be effectively used in writing, but Messud did not do that here. They stand out painfully, and seem like a desperate and poor attempt to create a sense of drama and urgency.

c.) There were very serious scenes that were depicted in the most unrealistic way possible. A pitbull mauls a child, and the adults' reaction is "I guess we should go to urgent care..." A girl is found almost-dead in an abandoned building in the woods, and one of the medics' first response is, "What a f***ing mess", while the other tells a bystander to "pack up this s***", gesturing to the mess in the room. There is NO sense of urgency, of "this girl is dying and may have overdosed, we need to get her out of here and to a hospital", or even "oh I am a medic and it is my job to care for this person who is dying". Why do they care about the mess made in the room of an abandoned building? It's mind-boggling to me that a person actually wrote this.

d.) There appeared to be no point to this novel. The plot was sort of about friendship and coming-of-age? But the author was trying to tell us about those important concepts is not made clear. There is no apparent message, no sense of having learned something about the characters and their motivations. It was at once meandering and melodramatic.

2. This is a harmful book for young adults to read

a.) The author has a very obvious connection between being overweight and being "bad" or socially unacceptable. Each time Cassie's mom, Bev, is in a scene that depicts her character as a bad mother. She's always talking about Bev's ample flesh and body size, and when Bev's mom does talk she's either being an evil witch OR she's saying stuff like, "Maybe there's time for a quick snack?" It's unsettling that so much of characterization and body type is linked in this novel that is intended for a young adult audience.

b.) The conclusion was particularly disturbing to me - it basically stated, "It would have been better if something traumatic had happened to Cassie and she died/killed herself." That is the summation as I understood it. One of the girls says, "Okay, she gets a couple of interest points for [trying to commit suicide]; but nobody at school knows that yet. And it wouldn't made a better story if she'd actually succeeded." And when challenged, says, "I'm just telling it like it is." And that appears to be the author's conclusion, also. Cassie is not interesting because she's just a "troubled girl" who DIDN'T die, and in the end no one really cares.

Do not read this novel, and DEFINITELY do not give this novel to a young adult.
Profile Image for Vikki Patis.
Author 10 books183 followers
April 18, 2017
Girls. They're the subject of choice these days. The Girl On The Train, Girls On Fire, Gone Girl... we seem to be obsessed with the inner workings of girls - or women, as the case may be. But The Burning Girl really is about girls - particularly the friendship between girls, and how utterly complex it can be. As close as sisters, as vicious as enemies, the friendships between girls can be stormy and intense, fulfilling and thrilling.

Cassie is a girl on fire, with a rough home life and a deep desperation to be loved. Julia, her best friend, is what you'd call a normal girl, with a fiery feminist mother and laid-back father, and an average, loving home. Julia has direction - she speaks clearly of the expectations placed upon her, that she'll go to university and do well for herself. But Cassie has no such expectations - nobody expects her to amount to anything. And nobody is surprised when she apparently goes off the rails, screaming for attention. Or was she? I was Cassie, once upon a time, but now I'm Julia (and her mum!), so I can relate to both of these girls.

The storyline isn't new, nor is it surprising, especially not to any female readers. But it is fresh, insightful, glorious. Messud is an incredible writer. The Burning Girl is wonderful and triumphant, and will be read in one sitting.

Profile Image for Barbara.
Author 347 books4,056 followers
September 29, 2017
Up front, please know that I did not care for Ms. Messud’s last book, The Woman Upstairs. I actually stopped reading when I was three-quarters of the way through, simply didn’t feel the characters to be riveting, and when an earlier book of hers, The Emperor’s Children, was reissued, I passed on it. Then, last week, along came her new one, The Burning Girl. Since it was well-reviewed, I gave it a shot.

The promotional material alluded to the bond of best friends, two girls who clicked in nursery school and shared everything until adolescence tore them apart. But I ran into trouble right at the start, because I never quite understood the connection between these two girls. I get that they were opposites – good girl versus bad girl, conservative girl versus daring girl, yin and yang perhaps. But I never bought into their attraction to each other. Yes, they both had blue eyes, and yes, they talked of being secret sisters, but I still don’t understand why. Their drifting apart in adolescence made far more sense to me than their attraction.

Oh, there were nice moments, like when the author described another girl in their class, an evil one, as looking out of the corner of her eye like Sophia Vergara watching in a show that only she could see. Or the moment when Missud describes a man whose clothes looked like they’d been clipped on, like clothes on a paper doll, always slightly askew.

But moments here and there were all I got here. The whole of the book didn’t work for me. As a chronicle of the agony of growing up, there was nothing new. Lots of other writers have done the same in a manner every bit as skilled. Yes, Ms. Messud’s prose is straight forward, clean, and easy to read (or listen to, as was the case). But brilliant? I didn’t see that.

I felt particularly let down by the ending. What was intended to be a dramatic plot twist wasn’t dramatic at all, and what happened afterward was even more of a letdown. Worst, I felt that the author spent the last pages trying to add meaning to something whose meaning was negligible.

As with Tom Perrotta in Mrs. Fletcher, an author this highly acclaimed suffers from inflated expectations. Perhaps without the hype, I might have liked this book more.
Profile Image for Eileen.
429 reviews78 followers
November 3, 2017
Highly readable, The Burning Girl revolved around an adolescent friendship. The fierce intensity and the often transitory nature of such attachments were portrayed in a compelling manner. Key to the plot development was the premise that we tell ourselves lies to justify our actions. Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school through the onset of adolescence, despite the contrast in their backgrounds. Then forks in the road appear and different choices are made. As Julia, the narrator, becomes aware of the current trend, various emotions naturally surface: among them regret, nostalgia, hurt, and disappointment. Here she reflects on the changed situation/nature of things.
‘But our friendship was, at the same time, like a city you hadn’t visited for a long time, where you know the streets by heart but the shops and restaurants have changed, so you can find your way from the church to the town square but you don’t know where to get ice cream or a decent sandwich.’
Of course the theme struck a chord! We all have memories of the friendships of youth. Claire Messud writes well in an understated way, such that I found myself immediately drawn in, yet somehow unaware that I was in such good hands! Hers is a quiet skill.
Profile Image for Zuzulivres.
336 reviews96 followers
November 5, 2019
Rozlíšiť predstavy od skutočnosti môže byť v istom období života problematickejšie ako sa na prvý pohľad môže zdať. Čo je realita a čo sme si iba vymysleli, prekrútili či vyfabulovali? Aj o tomto je táto útla kniha od výbornej rozprávačky Claire Messud.
"Všetci si obliekame kostýmy, masky a predstierame. Berieme rozsiahle, neúplné, neuchopiteľné hory udalostí a emócií a cedíme ich do zjednodušeného rozprávania, do prostého príbehu, ktorý predstavujeme ako pravdivý.(...) Lenže v skutočnosti vôbec nič nevieme, len to, ako by mal príbeh pokračovať, tvárime sa, že je to náš príbeh, a dúfame, že všetko dobre dopadne. Rozdiel je v tom, že na pódiu alebo vo filme priznávame podvod, prijímame, že sme vytvorili svet, ktorý odmieta to, čo ignorujeme. Ako bohovia vymýšľame svet, ktorý by mal logiku."
Profile Image for Chris.
557 reviews
October 30, 2017
2.5, but raised it to 3 because I loved the first part of the book and her writing. It's unfortunate the story took a turn I didn't care for. Although I have to quibble that the girls seemed to be more like high schoolers than middle schoolers. Please don't tell me drugs and alcohol are present at parties with 12 year olds!!
Profile Image for Crystal King.
Author 3 books419 followers
December 27, 2017
Stunning. I would give my eyeteeth to be able to write like Claire Messud. Every word of this book was perfect.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,475 reviews372 followers
June 3, 2018
Julia and Cassie have been friends since preschool but now they've entered the treacherous waters of middle school. The former "secret sisters" are going different ways: Julia is an honors student and Cassie...well, not. As Cassie heads in a dangerous direction, Julia tries to help but no longer understands what their relationship is. Or if they even have one.

I loved Messud's last book, The Woman Upstairs, which I found a powerful story of women and art and the relationships between the women as people and as artists. The Burning Girl feels less compelling to me but still an engrossing read as Messud continues to explore female relationships, this time in adolescence.

Although much of the story felt predictable, I was still drawn into the lives of these characters and came to care about them, their relationship, their lives. Told in the first person from Julia's point of view, Cassie remains somewhat mysterious which is, I think, as it should be. Adolescence is a mysterious time, particularly to those going through it. Julia's life is more stable and comfortable and her struggles less interesting than Cassie's, who is beautiful and tortured.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it for those looking for a story built around characters, their experiences and relationships.
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