STARRED REVIEW
June 06, 2016

A consuming new friendship

By Robin Wasserman

There’s friendship, and then there’s friendship that borders on obsession. That sort of bond draws two people together as though they’re on a crash course with destiny.

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There’s friendship, and then there’s friendship that borders on obsession. That sort of bond draws two people together as though they’re on a crash course with destiny. They begin to mimic each other’s actions and speech patterns. They dress alike. They exist in a magical world that only they can understand.

That’s what happens when Hannah Dexter finds herself pulled into Lacey Champlain’s orbit.

Lacey is the new girl in Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, a town where teenagers are expected to play by the rules and anything else is unimaginable. After Halloween of 1991, one of Battle Creek’s golden children turns up in the woods, dead by an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. The town’s residents are left asking, what could cause such a popular athlete to do such a thing?

Lacey and Dex—as Hannah’s best friend rechristens her—are curious, but more concerned with the world that’s left. With Nirvana as their soundtrack, the duo wreaks havoc on the small town. Signs of satanic worship unnerved the community even before the teenage suicide, and the girls aren’t afraid to join in the mischief.

Or well, Lacey isn’t. She’s always had something to run from; her mother became pregnant by mistake, and Lacey’s father left the family when she was small. Her mother toted Lacey to concerts—after which Mrs. Champlain would head backstage, toddler in tow, to canoodle with the band. Mrs. Champlain has attempted to straighten up, though, and the move to Battle Creek is part of that. After all, now she’s got a new husband (“the Bastard”) and a son (Bastard Jr.). Lacey is all that’s bringing her down.

The awkward Dex is an eager student, grateful for the connection she’s always lacked. Never mind that she’s not crazy about Kurt Cobain’s voice and that it hadn’t occurred to her to hate the name Hannah. She’ll follow where her soul sister leads, no matter how dark the path.

And indeed, it is dark.

Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire proves the young-adult novelist can write tales for adults every bit as powerful as those that have driven her past success. By unveiling the story in alternating perspectives by Lacey and Dex, with interludes from others, Wasserman slowly peels back the layers of teenage friendship. What’s left is a compelling study of the forces that draw people together.

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Girls on Fire

Girls on Fire

By Robin Wasserman
Harper
ISBN 9780062415486

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