I know we’re not even midway through 2016, but I can tell you now this is the best book I’ll read this year. I loved every word of this book and never wanted it to end.
Set in a nondescript town called Battle Creek, ‘Girls on Fire’ is a story of the friendship between two girls, Hannah Dexter and Lacey Champlain. It is also a story about sex and sexuality and the different ways young women deal with the startling and - at times –frightening changes to their teenage bodies.
The writing is brilliant – clever, funny prose that dances off every page as the reader is drawn deeper into the dark, obsessive world of Hannah (Dex) and Lacey.
The novel opens with a brief prologue which reads like an ode to those transitory, perfect moments of careless youth that we only ever appreciate long after they’re gone. The writing is so lyrical, so rich, so pitch-perfect it is more like poetry than prose. Like youth itself, this opening section sizzles with light and life and energy; and ends far too quickly.
The story is told from the interchanging viewpoints of Dex and Lacey. Both are complicated, clever, compelling and utterly convincing characters. They are drawn to each other like moths to a flame, both seeing in the other a chance to escape the life they are living and become someone else.
Set in 1991, the story begins with a death. The body of high school jock, Craig Ellison, has been found in the woods near town. All evidence points to Craig’s death being a suicide, although no one can think of any reason why he would want to end his life.
Convinced that tragedy must ‘change a person’, Hannah becomes increasingly obsessed with Craig’s girlfriend, golden girl Nikki Drummond. But Nikki shows no signs that Craig’s death has touched her in any way and Hannah’s focus gradually shifts from Nikki to new girl in school, Lacey Champain.
Under Lacey’s influence, Hannah is transformed from boring good girl into risk-taking, Nirvana-loving Dex. Friendship between the two girls is fast and fierce, built on a shared love of being outsiders and an obsessive hatred of Nikki Drummond.
But there is a fine line between love and hate and neither girl’s feelings for Nikki are as straight-forward as they first seem. As secrets unfold, Dex and Lacey’s feelings for each other are stretched to the limit. It’s only a matter of time before something breaks. And when that happens, the girls’ lives – and the lives of those around them – is changed forever.
‘Girls on Fire’ is a stunning book. If you like Megan Abbott and Gillian Flynn, you will love Robin Wasserman.