‘The Burning Girl’ by Claire Messud – A Close Childhood Friendship Goes Awry

‘The Burning Girl’ by Claire Messud   (2017) – 247 pages

“Nobody particularly wants the happy ending when they care more for the story than the person.”

‘The Burning Girl’ is about two close friends in an early childhood friendship who move apart when they get to be around twelve years old.  This does happen in real life to both boys and girls.  Our early friendships are based more on proximity rather than shared interests or values.  It is not at all rare for a twelve year old to discover that they have little in common with even their best friend until then.  That does not mean that their friendship wasn’t entirely valid up until that point.

Several scenes early in the novel depict the closeness of these two young friends Julia and Cassie who live in the small town of Royston, Massachusetts. These scenes at an animal shelter, at a quarry, and at a defunct mental asylum showing the closeness of these two girls are well-done.

However in the seventh grade they start moving apart and in different circles.  Their separation is exasperated because Cassie gets a new stepfather whom she hates.

One criticism that keeps popping up in the reviews for ‘The Burning Girl’ is that the voice of the narrator is much too articulate for a twelve year old girl.  I don’t consider this criticism entirely valid, because I picture the narrator as Julia when she is fully grown up looking back on her childhood.  Thus it is not like Tom Sawyer where it is the kid telling the story.

Toward the end of the novel Messud uses the word “inchoate”.  Now “inchoate” is a word I cannot imagine any young person using.  In fact I had to look up that word myself. But with the narrator speaking as an adult I suppose the use of the word is entirely valid. Quick, give me the definition of “inchoate”.

So we have these two young girls who were the best of friends.  However when they reach adolescence, Cassie no longer wants to be friends.  Then from Julia’s perspective, we see Cassie’s family life and social life deteriorate.  We and Julia are standing on the sidelines watching Cassie’s life fall apart.  I do believe it would have been more substantial if we also saw more of Julia’s own struggles with adolescence.  As it is the story seems a little one-sided.


Grade :   B

4 responses to this post.

  1. O woe! *chuckle* Should I stop using the word inchoate in my reviews? It’s one of my favourites when talking about adolescents and sometimes the only one that will do.

    Liked by 1 person


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