“On Halloween, 1991, a popular high school basketball star ventures into the woods near Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, and disappears. Three days later, he’s found with a bullet in his head and a gun in his hand—a discovery that sends tremors through this conservative community, already unnerved by growing rumors of Satanic worship in the region.
In the wake of this incident, bright but lonely Hannah Dexter is befriended by Lacey Champlain, a dark-eyed, Cobain-worshiping bad influence in lip gloss and Doc Martens. The charismatic, seductive Lacey forges a fast, intimate bond with the impressionable Dex, making her over in her own image and unleashing a fierce defiance that neither girl expected. But as Lacey gradually lures Dex away from her safe life into a feverish spiral of obsession, rebellion, and ever greater risk, an unwelcome figure appears on the horizon—and Lacey’s secret history collides with Dex’s worst nightmare.
By turns a shocking story of love and violence and an addictive portrait of the intoxication of female friendship, set against the unsettled backdrop of a town gripped by moral panic, Girls on Fire is an unflinching and unforgettable snapshot of girlhood: girls lost and found, girls strong and weak, girls who burn bright and brighter—and some who flicker away.”
My Thoughts: Much like Lacey’s beloved Kurt, Girls on Fire is a brutally raw story of friendship, particularly of the obsessive nature of them. Neither Dex nor Lacey are particularly likeable; one is too manipulative, and the other is too submissive. If Anne Shirley and Diana Barry are the quintessential example of kindred spirits, then Dex and Lacey are their antithesis. Yet, the two work well together and manage to form a bond that is difficult to break.
Dex is the Every Girl and represents all of us who have been swept off our feet by the attention of someone more exotic than us. In Lacey, she finds someone so at odds with her own upbringing that her attention is not just welcome but desired. In fact, there is a subtle erotic tone to their friendship that adds tension to later scenes. Building upon this layer of semi-sexual tension is the fact that Dex struggles with Lacey’s sudden but very welcome attention. She simultaneously craves it and yet fears the real reasons behind her friendship. It is the truth behind Lacey’s actions which supply much of the drama and suspense within the story, confirming fears everywhere that sudden attention from someone new is never a good thing.
Alternating between Dex’s and Lacey’s perspectives, readers eventually get the whole, ugly, and strangely beautiful truth behind their odd friendship. With these girls, Ms. Wasserman shines the spotlight on the dysfunction that passes for high school female friendship and the idiosyncrasies which are unique to female friendships in general. Dex and Lacey, for all of their faults and individual as well as collective issues, prove that true friends will stick together through thick or thin. Yet, this total acceptance comes with its darker side.
Girls on Fire is like the entire grunge movement – angsty, angry, unimpressed, isolated; reading it will evoke all of these feelings and more. Robin Wasserman expertly captures what it was like to come of age in the early 90’s. In Dex and Lacey, she portrays our profound apathy and social isolation and our fierce need to differentiate ourselves from the bright and overly stylized 70’s and 80’s. She does such an excellent job at representing this era that in many ways reading Girls on Fire is like stepping back in time to that age where life was at once hopeful, with the end of the Cold War, and hopeless, with the World Trade Center bombing and the rising awareness/acceptance of global warming, and where we expressed our confusion and despair at the future through grunge and self-mutilation (in the form of tattoos and piercings). In a world where Gen-X holds no sway because we are too small a generation to drive much of anything, Girls on Fire reminds us of who we are and what we have overcome.