Cover image for
The burning girl : a novel
Messud, Claire, 1966-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Physical Description:
247 pages ; 22 cm
Lifelong friends Julia and Cassie find their relationship tested as their paths diverge during adolescence as Cassie embarks on a dangerous journey.
Pub Date:
W. W. Norton & Company, [2017]


Home Location
Material Type
Shelf Number
Central - Houston Public Library Adult Fiction Book MESSU
Heights - Houston Public Library Adult Fiction Book MESSU
Robinson-Westchase - Houston Public Library Adult Fiction Book MESSU
Freed-Montrose -- Houston Public Library Adult Fiction Book MESSU
Jungman - Houston Public Library Adult Fiction Book MESSU
Looscan - Houston Public Library Adult Fiction Book MESSU
Ring - Houston Public Library Adult Fiction Book MESSU

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Julia and Cassie have been friends since nursery school. They have shared everything, including their desire to escape the stifling limitations of their birthplace, the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts. But as the two girls enter adolescence, their paths diverge and Cassie sets out on a journey that will put her life in danger and shatter her oldest friendship. The Burning Girl is a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about youth and friendship, and straddles, expertly, childhood's imaginary worlds and painful adult reality--crafting a true, immediate portrait of female adolescence.Claire Messud, one of our finest novelists, is as accomplished at weaving a compelling fictional world as she is at asking the big questions: To what extent can we know ourselves and others? What are the stories we create to comprehend our lives and relationships? Brilliantly mixing fable and coming-of-age tale, The Burning Girl gets to the heart of these matters in an absolutely irresistible way.

Author Notes

Claire Messud was born in Greenwich, Connecticut. She grew up in the United States, Australia, and Canada. She returned to the states when she was a teenager. She did undergraduate and graduate studies at Yale University and Cambridge University.

Messud's debut novel, "When The World Was Steady" (1995), was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. "The Emperor's Children" was a New York Times Bestseller and was longlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. Her most recent novel, "The Burning Girl" was published in 2017 by W. W. Norton.

She has taught creative writing at Amherst College, Kenyon College, University of Maryland, Yale University, in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers in North Carolina, in the Graduate Writing program at The Johns Hopkins University, and at Harvard University. Messud also taught at the Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. She is on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common, based at Amherst College.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters has recognized Messud's talent with both an Addison Metcalf Award and a Strauss Living Award. She is s a recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* After the fierce complexity of The Woman Upstairs (2013), Messud presents a more concentrated, no less emotionally intense novel about an adhesively close friendship between two Massachusetts girls and its tragic unraveling. Fatherless Cassie, whose mother is a hospice nurse, is tiny, radiantly pale, and audacious. Julia, Messud's wise-beyond-her-years narrator, is sturdy, voraciously observant, and quick-witted, the doted-on daughter of a dentist and a writer. During the summer before seventh grade, the girls' volunteer efforts at an animal shelter end in a bloody mess. They then instigate even riskier adventures trekking out to and exploring a long-abandoned women's mental asylum. Over the next two years, Julia thrives in school; Cassie does not. The boy Julia likes likes Cassie. Cassie's mother finds a nightmare of a boyfriend, and Cassie disappears behind a carapace of secrecy and stoicism that conceals deepening despair. Julia's concern over Cassie intertwines with her musings on the suffering of the asylum patients as she discerns that growing up female was about learning to be afraid. Messud's entrancing, gorgeously incisive coming-of-age drama astutely tracks the sharpening perceptions of an exceptionally eloquent young woman navigating heartbreak and regret and realizing that one can never fathom the wild, unknowable interior lives of others, not even someone you love.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2017 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Trying to console her heartbroken daughter, Julia Robinson's mother muses, "Everyone loses a best friend at some point." Julia is the narrator of Messud's beautiful novel about two young girls, inseparable since nursery school in a small Massachusetts town, who feel they're "joined by an invisible thread," but who drift apart as they come of age. For years, Julia and Cassie Burnes have shared adventures and dreams, but as they cross the pivotal threshold into seventh grade, Julia feels betrayed when Cassie is drawn to boys, alcohol, and drugs. To the reader, the split seems inevitable. Julia is the product of a stable household, but Cassie's blowsy, unreliable mother transfers her affection to a brutally controlling lover who destroys Cassie's sense of security. Desperately unhappy, Cassie sets out to find the father she has never known and begins a spiral of self-destruction that Julia, now no longer Cassie's intimate friend, must hear about from the boy they both love. Messud shines a tender gaze on her protagonists and sustains an elegiac tone as she conveys the volatile emotions of adolescent behavior and the dawning of female vulnerability ("being a girl is about learning to be afraid"). Julia voices the novel's leitmotif: that everyone's life is essentially a mysterious story, distorted by myths. Although it reverberates with astute insights, in some ways this simple tale is less ambitious but more heartfelt than Messud's previous work. The Emperor's Children was a many-charactered, satiric study of Ivy League-educated, entitled young people making it in New York. The Woman Upstairs was a clever, audacious portrayal of an untrustworthy protagonist. Informed by the same sophisticated intelligence and elegant prose, but gaining new poignant depths, this novel is haunting and emotionally gripping. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Julia and Cassie are best friends from childhood, but starting in seventh grade they begin to drift apart. With her college-bound peers, Julia, the book's narrator, moives toward academics and the speech team, while Cassie gets involved with the party scene. Conflict with her mother and her mother's live-in boyfriend lead Cassie to increasingly reckless behavior. As Julia helplessly observes Cassie's downward spiral, her attempts to reach out are rebuffed, and she turns to Cassie's ex-boyfriend, Peter (whom Julia has always had a crush on) for solace. While the story line of friends taking different paths during adolescence is well-trod territory, Messud (The Emperor's Children) displays uncommon skill in depicting the conflicting interests and emotions of the tween years. The opening section is especially vivid in describing the summer before seventh grade, when the girls, with one foot still in childhood, struggle to fill their idle hours with exploration and imagination. In giving the sole narration to Julia, Messud somewhat paints herself into a corner, as the accounts of Cassie's experiences told to Julia through Peter include a level of observational detail that defies plausibility. VERDICT Despite some drawbacks, the narrative has broad appeal for teens and adults alike. [See Prepub Alert, 2/27/17.]-Christine -DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

In Julia's first memory of her best friend, Cassie is standing in the middle of their preschool playground, looking like a sprite with her shiny white hair and tiny stature. From that moment on, they belong to each other. Fast-forward through years of imaginative games and adventures to the summer before seventh grade. That summer a pit bull shreds Cassie's arm, necessitating a visit to Dr. Anders Shute, who comes to play a terrible role in the girl's life. That same summer the girls discover Bonnybrook, an abandoned asylum for women. But seventh grade brings change. Cassie finds a new, wilder friend, and the girls grow apart. Julia, whose life is filled with opportunity, attempts to reconstruct the series of events that led to Cassie's ultimate tragedy, relying on hearsay and her presumption that she can still intuit her friend's thoughts and emotions. From Julia's perspective, Cassie is surrounded by danger: men driving cars in the dark, boys piling into bathrooms at parties, and the creepy Anders Shute, who married Cassie's mother. Teens who love novels taut with psychological tension will be intrigued by Cassie's downward spiral and Julia's curious role as storyteller. Much more than a tale of friendship gone awry, this dark work explores the roles we accept, those we reject, and those we thrust upon others. VERDICT A gripping coming-of-age narrative that will appeal to fans of Emma Cline's The Girls or Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You.-Diane Colson, formerly at City College, Gainesville, FL © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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