Author: Robin Wasserman
Published: May 17 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town's bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.
But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it's a secret that will change everything...
Mostly known for her darker/horror YA novels like The Waking Dark and The Book of Blood and Shadow, Robin Wasserman has tried her hand at adult lit with her newest, Girls on Fire... and it often feels like the work of a completely different author. Girls on Fire is a brash, loud, angry, chaotic, and jumbled story of Hannah and Lacey, two girls drawn together in a small town during the early 90s. With echoes of a 10-years younger and more Satanic Thelma and Louise, Wasserman's newest book isn't one afraid to go down dark paths. It's got a lot of voice -- be it in Lacey or Dex/Hannah's POV -- and personality, but it also can feel thin at times; too little plot over too many pages, or too much going on with not enough substance.
Dex and Lacey's story is Robin Wasserman's take on an all-consuming, toxic, and blurred-lines female friendship. It's a relationship full of nuance and evolution but it can also feel overwrought and like the author was visibly and not subtly trying to distance herself from her YA roots. Girls on Fire goes for shock value and surprise and it sort-of works, sometimes. I've no issue with sex or other adult themes but this is a book that sometimes crossed from "adult" to "cheesy" when that definitely was not the intention. I've read Wasserman's previous books and found them uniquely and smartly creepy, but found little of that subtlety here. For all that I wasn't entirely keen on how the plot progressed through the book, it's undeniable that Girls on Fire is at least an unpredictable and memorable read.
My main issue with this book lies with how hard the narrative tries to be compelling and deep and also with how the inciting incident of the novel (Craig's death) is ultimately resolved. Both of these tie into key elements of the resolution so it left me unsatisfied by the ending. The first issue pops up more noticeably in the second half of the book, when all the poor cliches seem to roll out. It's not enough that Lacey has a broken home, no her stepdad is the literal worst, so on and so forth. In trying to make Lacey's homelife and poverty resonate, Wasserman seemingly overcorrected. Secondly, the actual act in which Craig died? Made me laugh, doubletake and then laugh again. I stopped reading the book because it was so jarring, I was taken right out of the story.
The best part of Girls on Fire was the inner life and narration of one half of the book's leading duo: Hannah/Dex. Even moreso than the ringleader Lacey, though each/both may be an unreliable narrator, Hannah has a voice that does seem to connect easily with readers and draw them into the twisted story. Lacey's characterization may have veered towards cliche at times, but Hannah's does not. She is the highlight and the strongest element of Girls on Fire. Even as other characters dominate the story and manipulate each other, Hannah's evolution is riveting and interesting to watch. It wasn't exactly my preferred cup of tea this time, but you can't say that Girls of Fire is boring book or that Robin Wasserman doesn't have a great, twisted imagination.