The Burning Girl - Claire Messud

Staff Pick

Friendships seldom get the sustained literary treatment that romances do, but Claire Messud’s insightful novel The Burning Girl (W.W. Norton, $25.95) shows that these relationships strike as deep, stir as many emotions, and do as much to shape a person, for better or worse. They can have special force when formed early in life, and Messud’s protagonists, Julia and Cassie, are best friends from nursery school to roughly seventh grade. Narrating the friendship and its aftermath, Julia, the one who takes paths already there rather than striking out into untrodden territory—the one who sets limits—insists that she and Cassie are as close as sisters. Their two families never mesh, however, and Julia comes to realize that her notion of “home” is not Cassie’s. Much of Cassie’s home life is guesswork, and while Julia does that work, her version of Cassie is partly made up; at times Cassie seems like one of the characters Julia, an aspiring actress, inhabits on stage. Messud uses the inherently self-dramatizing period of adolescence as a lens to view more difficult questions of how well any two people can know each other, and she brilliantly demonstrates how the typical rites of passage—fantasizing about an alternative family, surviving junior high cliques—can suddenly yield “one of those events that that was little and big at the same time,” bringing about the kind of understanding that a person never forgets.

The Burning Girl: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393635027
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - August 29th, 2017

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