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The Burning Girl
Cover of The Burning Girl
The Burning Girl
A Novel

A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

"[A] masterwork of psychological fiction.... Messud teases readers with a psychological mystery, withholding information and then cannily parceling it out." —Chicago Tribune

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.

The Burning Girl was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, NPR, Financial Times, Town & Country, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Refinery29, and Literary Hub.

A Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist

"[A] masterwork of psychological fiction.... Messud teases readers with a psychological mystery, withholding information and then cannily parceling it out." —Chicago Tribune

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.

The Burning Girl was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, NPR, Financial Times, Town & Country, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Refinery29, and Literary Hub.

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About the Author-
  • Claire Messud is the author of six works of fiction. A recipient of a Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her family.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 12, 2017
    Trying to console her heartbroken daughter, Julia Robinson’s mother muses, “Everyone loses a best friend at some point.” Julia is the narrator of Messud’s beautiful novel about two young girls, inseparable since nursery school in a small Massachusetts town, who feel they’re “joined by an invisible thread,” but who drift apart as they come of age. For years, Julia and Cassie Burnes have shared adventures and dreams, but as they cross the pivotal threshold into seventh grade, Julia feels betrayed when Cassie is drawn to boys, alcohol, and drugs. To the reader, the split seems inevitable. Julia is the product of a stable household, but Cassie’s blowsy, unreliable mother transfers her affection to a brutally controlling lover who destroys Cassie’s sense of security. Desperately unhappy, Cassie sets out to find the father she has never known and begins a spiral of self-destruction that Julia, now no longer Cassie’s intimate friend, must hear about from the boy they both love. Messud shines a tender gaze on her protagonists and sustains an elegiac tone as she conveys the volatile emotions of adolescent behavior and the dawning of female vulnerability (“being a girl is about learning to be afraid”). Julia voices the novel’s leitmotif: that everyone’s life is essentially a mysterious story, distorted by myths. Although it reverberates with astute insights, in some ways this simple tale is less ambitious but more heartfelt than Messud’s previous work. The Emperor’s Children was a many-charactered, satiric study of Ivy League–educated, entitled young people making it in New York. The Woman Upstairs was a clever, audacious portrayal of an untrustworthy protagonist. Informed by the same sophisticated intelligence and elegant prose, but gaining new poignant depths, this novel is haunting and emotionally gripping.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 15, 2017
    Messud (The Woman Upstairs, 2013, etc.) investigates the fraught intricacies of friendship and adolescence as two girls grow up and grow apart in a small Massachusetts town.About to start her senior year of high school, narrator Julia painfully traces the loss of her childhood friend Cassie, a bold rule-breaker who goaded and thrilled cautious Julia even as she relied on her friend's good sense to keep them safe. During the charmed intimacy of childhood, Julia wistfully recalls, "we had one mind and could roam its limits together, inventing stories and making ourselves as we wanted them to be." But in seventh grade Cassie drifts away to a more popular crowd, adding insult to injury by dating and then dropping Peter, an older boy she knows Julia likes. With characteristically lucid prose, Messud perfectly captures the agonizing social insecurities of middle school in Julia's seething assessment that Cassie "thought she could laugh at me to my face...she was Regina George from Mean Girls and I was Janis." Payback comes when Cassie's widowed mother, Bev, falls in love with Dr. Anders Shute, who may have an unhealthy interest in Cassie and certainly encourages Bev to confine and control her in ways that lead to a crisis. By this time, Julia has new friends of her own and a more secure social niche in ninth grade; she knows Cassie is in trouble but is too hurt and too invested in her new role--this is very much a book about masks and performances--to respond when Cassie tentatively reaches out. Although their shared past gives Julia the knowledge to forestall disaster when Cassie vanishes, Messud also suggests that we never truly know another, not even those we love best. That stark worldview only slowly becomes apparent in a narrative that for a long time seems more overwrought than events call for (it is, after all, narrated by a teenager), but by the novel's closing pages it packs an emotional wallop. Emotionally intense and quietly haunting.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    March 15, 2017
    Friends since nursery school, Julia and Cassie are bonded by a desire to get out of airless, noose-tight Royston, MA. But there's only one burning girl in Messud's title, and that's Cassie, who ventures further and further afield during adolescence until she puts friendship with Julia--and her own life--in danger. From the New York Times best-selling The Emperor's Children, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. With a six-city tour and big promotion at BEA and ALA.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • School Library Journal

    October 1, 2017

    In Julia's first memory of her best friend, Cassie is standing in the middle of their preschool playground, looking like a sprite with her shiny white hair and tiny stature. From that moment on, they belong to each other. Fast-forward through years of imaginative games and adventures to the summer before seventh grade. That summer a pit bull shreds Cassie's arm, necessitating a visit to Dr. Anders Shute, who comes to play a terrible role in the girl's life. That same summer the girls discover Bonnybrook, an abandoned asylum for women. But seventh grade brings change. Cassie finds a new, wilder friend, and the girls grow apart. Julia, whose life is filled with opportunity, attempts to reconstruct the series of events that led to Cassie's ultimate tragedy, relying on hearsay and her presumption that she can still intuit her friend's thoughts and emotions. From Julia's perspective, Cassie is surrounded by danger: men driving cars in the dark, boys piling into bathrooms at parties, and the creepy Anders Shute, who married Cassie's mother. Teens who love novels taut with psychological tension will be intrigued by Cassie's downward spiral and Julia's curious role as storyteller. Much more than a tale of friendship gone awry, this dark work explores the roles we accept, those we reject, and those we thrust upon others. VERDICT A gripping coming-of-age narrative that will appeal to fans of Emma Cline's The Girls or Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You.-Diane Colson, formerly at City College, Gainesville, FL

    Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • San Francisco Chronicle Breathtaking.... With this novel, Messud brings her own particular brand of astuteness and emotional intelligence through her careful and thoughtful prose.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin;Guardian Messud captures young adolescence vividly and unjudgmentally.... Messud is a storyteller: the ability to compel and hold the reader's interest may not be the crown and summit of novel writing, but it's the beginning and end of it.... [T]he story rewards the reader right through to the end.
  • Wall Street Journal Messud is at her most incisive in exploring the volatile transition from childhood to adolescence.
  • Vanity Fair Slim but impactful.... The Burning Girl asks how well we can ever know our closest confidants and answers its own question with every refined page.
  • Los Angeles Times [Messud] is an absolute master storyteller and bafflingly good writer.... It is that combination of imagination and skill that makes The Burning Girl exceptional.... It amplifies that subtle, piercing shift between Cassie and Julia, made brighter by passages of sheer splendorous prose.
  • Michael Gorra;New York Review of Books The kind of book more common in the middle of the twentieth century than it is today.... Like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye... The Burning Girl has a more sophisticated structure, in its unobtrusive handling of the relation between its narrative voice and Julia's younger self, and its moral complexities seem greater too.
  • The New Yorker The friendship of two girls, Julia and Cassie, animates this slim, dreamlike novel.... Messud plays, lightly, with familiar archetypes, deftly abstracting her tale so that it flares into myth.
  • Ruth Franklin;New York Times Magazine [Messud] has specialized in creating unusual female characters with ferocious, imaginative inner lives... and quietly making a case for women's interiority as a subject worthy of the most serious examination.
  • Boston Globe Messud is psychologically astute about her characters and about the competing social and familial pressures... that make adolescent friendship and its dissolution so fraught.
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A Novel
Claire Messud
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