The Burning Girl – Claire Messud

Yet another one of the subscription boxes books. But this time for the life of me I cannot remember if it came from How Novel of The Willoughby Book Club. This may not have been my favorite book, but I still enjoy the subscriptions immensely.

The Burning Girl focuses on the friendship of Julia and Cassie. The girls live in a small town, Royston, and know each other since early childhood. They quickly become best friends and are virtually inseparable. Sharing hopes, dreams, and adventures. Volunteering together in the local animal shelter and spending time in each other’s homes.

Despite coming from very different backgrounds they connect easily crossing the social borders with little effort. Julia comes from a typical middle-class family, with a dentist father and journalist mother. Cassie on the other hand lives with her single-mother, forming a tightly bound team of two. As you can expect, all this is about to change.

One day while volunteering at the shelter Cassie has an accident and ends up in A&E. This is the first time she meets Anders Shutte, the doctor that applied her stitches. Julia and Casie think no more of him and continue with their summer adventures, even if they are a little limited by Cassie’s injury. Together they explore the forest around town and everything nearby, vanishing from home for entire days.

As they move to high-school their paths diverge. Suddenly their background and social standing start to matter. The fact that Julia is very academically oriented and takes different classes than Cassie further separates them, they barely meet at school and there is not much time after. In addition to that Cassie finds a new crowd. As both girls mature their paths diverge irreparably. To add to it Cassie’s mother finds a partner, one that Cassie does not get along with. As Julia continues to be the poster child, Cassie enters a period of violent rebellion.

For Julia this separation is heart-breaking. The main focus of the book is her examination of this split. How can it happen that a person close to you as a family can become so distant in a matter of months. We get to know not only the facts of the story but also the violent feelings felt by Julia. She misses Cassie but also hates her for her perceived betrayal.

It is not a bad book, but also it did not move me in the way I would expect. Maybe because at my age I went through several friendships that rifted away, including those originating in early childhood. One learns to live with it. But I do know the first time it happens the pain is rough. And this makes me think it probably is a book for a younger reader or possibly a parent of a teenager. Messud evokes Julia’s feelings very accurately and believably. It’s just difficult for them to resonate strongly if one has been through this multiple times in real life. I do appreciate that she doesn’t shy away from showing Julia’s pettiness because that is what happens we often become petty when we’re hurt. So I cannot say the book does not ring true, it does. It just wasn’t the right time for me to read it, as I have no patience for teenage drama (and thankfully I am not a parent).

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

3 thoughts on “The Burning Girl – Claire Messud

  1. Pingback: Q4 2020 round-up –

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