“It starts with a suicide and ends with a death…”
That was the line that drew me in, morbid crime novel aficionado that I am.
But Girls on Fire isn’t any ordinary crime novel.
I’d call it a coming-of-age novel, which I suppose it is in some ways, except that I’d generally recommend those to teenagers and, well, I feel I’d be being irresponsible if I did that here.
This book is disturbing as hell, in places. It spins one of the weirdest storylines I’ve ever read, and yet somehow Wasserman manages to pull it off.
It’s a book about a small town rocked by the suicide of chief high school jock Craig. Hannah Dexter didn’t really know him, and in many ways hasn’t really been affected by his death at all, but of course an event like that is always going to have some sort of effect.
Just perhaps not the one Hannah expected.
Hannah’s always been a good girl: responsible, sensible, ultimately quite boring. But then Lacey moves to town: Lacey, with her Kurt Cobain tapes, Doc Martens and fuck-you attitude, is pretty much a walking guide to grunge. She draws Hannah in and helps reinvent her into Dex, a punk rebel who’s up for any challenge.
But gradually things begin to get a bit out of hand, and before Hannah knows what’s happening, she’s caught in a terrifying web of consequences that threatens to overwhelm her.
Wasserman writes in a way that reminds me of Caitlin Moran; teenage girls are full people, who do unladylike things like getting drunk and jerking off. The bitterness and the sweetness of teenage friendships are explored at length, and taken to their most wild conclusions.
Wasserman has a brilliant turn of phrase and is the kind of author who is eminently quotable, capturing the highs and lows of life, the horror and the beauty of being a teenage girl and all the crazy wonderful terrible things that entails.
“She felt, at times, that what had seemed like an infinity of choice turned out to be a funnel, life narrowing itself one bad decision at a time, each mistake cutting the options by half, spiraling her ever downward until there was nowhere left to fall but into a small, dark hole that had no bottom.”
“They wondered, sometimes, if they’d made a mistake. If it was dangerous, taming the wild, stealing away the words a girl might use to name her secret self. They wondered at the consequences of teaching a girl she was weak instead of warning her she was strong. They wondered, if knowing was power, what happened to the power that refused to know itself.”
Needless to say, I recommend it.
Girls on Fire was published in paperback on the 12th of January by Abacus, priced £8.99.
I received a review copy of Girls on Fire from the publisher. All views are my own.