Girls on Fire, by Robin Wasserman
I am shell-shocked by this book. It swept me up mercilessly and dropped me breathless and a little shaky: both with delayed relief and amazement that I survived my own teenage years, and with a gnawing fear for when my own two girls hit that age. It’s fresh and shocking - a whirlwind of rage, insecurity, hormones and gritty sexuality.
At it’s simplest it’s a high school tale; two girls whose intense friendship is kicked off by mutual hatred of the school’s queen bee. All of teenage life is there: embarrassing parents and dangerously dysfunctional families, fashion makeovers and the search for identity, blossoming sexuality and sexual assault. And the music. The story is soundtracked by grunge; Kurt Cobain is almost as much of a character as the protagonists themselves.
Dex and Lacey are the real main characters though, and the story is mainly narrated through their eyes. Tracking through events from their blinkered perspectives - drowned in hope and delusion and denial - you never quite know who to trust, and are kept guessing to the end. It is so clever and so layered, and there is simply so much in this book. A storyline that would be the main climax of any other tale is often just a bump in the road for Dex and Lacey. And even with a truly villainous villain there isn’t a single character you don’t feel for.
It was a pleasure to revisit the intensity of teenage emotions from a safe distance of years, but it also reminded me to be on guard and ready for when it hits again, this time with even less control. Perhaps all parents should read this book to steel themselves for the horrors that await - and remember how, all too easily, the good kids, the bad and all those in between, can tumble down the rabbit hole together.
Published: 5th May 2016, Little, Brown UK