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At its heart, Girls Burn Brighter is a story where friendship is the light that sustains two girls torn apart by the terrible circumstances of poverty, exploitation and misogyny. For a brief time, Savitha and Poornima find strength and hope when Savitha comes to work for Poornima’s widowed father on his sari loom. Both girls’ families barely subsist on meagre earnings from weaving and gleaning the local waste dumps. Life for poor girls in India, like many places, is a daily struggle. The girls give each other hope for a better life.

When they become separated through marriage and sexual violence, each experiences a series of horrific events which eventually lead to the world of human trafficking, degradation and the West. There is a glimmer of hope at the end of the novel, but for the most part, this is a gruelling, brutal work and not for the faint hearted.

At times the writing can be uneven. It can be brilliantly evocative, especially when describing the setting, at other times there is a bit too much telling rather than showing. The novel explores important themes and is very moving but so very sad. It reminds those of us fortunate to be born in wealthy countries that there are people everywhere who collude in these crimes against humanity and particularly against women.

Girls burn brighter, when lit by kerosene, but they may also burn with a flame that sustains them when others would give up.