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Girls on Fire

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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.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published May 17, 2016

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About the author

Robin Wasserman

113 books1,456 followers
Robin Wasserman is the author of the novels MOTHER DAUGHTER WIDOW WIFE (June 2020) and GIRLS ON FIRE. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and several short story anthologies. A recent MacDowell Colony fellow, she is also the New York Times bestselling author of more than ten novels for young adults and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,480 reviews
Profile Image for Laura.
425 reviews1,254 followers
April 4, 2016
It’s hard to think of what to say to even do this book justice. Girls on Fire is the story of a destructive female friendship in all it’s glory. There is something so intense, obsessive, and even terrifying about teenage girls and their friendships. Robin Wasserman does an incredible job at capturing this in a powerful way.

Set in the early 90s, Girls on Fire follows seventeen year old Hannah Dexter as she becomes Dex, the girl Lacey sees her as. The two meet amidst a town tragedy, Craig Ellison committed suicide in the woods and there are rumors of satanic worship around, bonding over their shared hatred for “queen bee” Nikki, also known as Craig’s girlfriend. Hannah is quiet usually keeping to herself, while Lacey is rebellious, wild, and very much the opposite. Lacey brings something out in Hannah changing her name to “Dex” to go with it. Thus begins an engrossing friendship.

What matters isn’t how we found each other, Dex, or why. It’s that we did, and what happened next. Smash the right two particles together in the right way and you get a bomb. That’s us, Dex. Accidental fusion.

Lacey is the type decked out in grunge fashion, obsessed with Kurt Cobain, and I mean obsessed. There are a lot of Nirvana and Kurt related references throughout, as well as numerous other references to things going on at the time whether in the news, pop culture, politics, etc. There were even a couple Real World references keeping true with the times.

Girls on Fire has multiple perspectives mostly alternating between Dex and Lacey speaking to each other. A few times you get a separate perspective in the chapters titled THEM. These were only a few pages each, but incredibly powerful regardless. I specifically love when Wasserman touches on the fear of having a daughter from the perspective of a mother.

They had all been girls, once upon a time. If they were afraid now, of their girls, it was only because they remembered what it was like. Girls grew up; girls grew wild. Girls didn’t know themselves and the sharp-toothed needs breeding within, and it was a mother’s job not to let them.

I cannot get over how captivating the writing is. I was trying to make the book last as long as I could. I kept going back and rereading passages. I wanted to take it all in..really savor the words. It has some of the most gorgeous prose I’ve ever read. It’s the kind that sets everything up so vividly from the setting to the plot and the characters. It felt like I was there implanted in the story. The characters are extremely complex. They could be viewed as unlikable and even unreliable. There were a lot of different dynamics to both Dex and Lacey’s friendship, as well as their surrounding relationships. The effect others have on us can be drastic, especially as a teenage girl.

I enjoyed how thought provoking both the writing and the story were. I had to share certain passages aloud immediately upon reading (this NEVER happens. But it was so good..I couldn’t not). I kept writing out quotes to remember. Some felt ripped out of my mind. Robin Wasserman really has a way with words.

Don’t let me steer you wrong. This book is very dark. Me, personally, I love this kind of book. Usually it’s the darker, the better. It’s just what I was looking for. Girls on Fire is definitely not young adult, but I can see where there is crossover appeal. There is plenty of language and dark subject matter including suicide, satanism, sex, drugs, bullying, etc. I’m not trying to scare you away, only giving fair warning. I mean..this is the story of a toxic female friendship that gets pretty terrifying. Think Megan Abbott, even Gillian Flynn in certain aspects. The effect this book could have on you is pretty intense. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m already planning to read this book again numerous times; pre-ordered and waiting for May. Cannot recommend enough.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
May 6, 2016
DNF - 50%

I could keep going, but I'm just really not enjoying this. I can't shake the feeling that we’ve kind of already been here and done this thing.

Girls on Fire is yet another book with flowery prose, about a good girl who becomes involved with a bad girl. Their friendship spirals into a consuming, chaotic obsession that leads to all kinds of craziness - drugs, sex, satanism, etc.

The author employs many shock tactics to keep you reading, but in truth, the narrative is very repetitive, both Lacey and Dex go over the same things again and again, using a different pretty metaphor. It's a copycat story of several others that have done this "bad girls, crazy obsession" thing a lot better. Maybe it will feel shiny and new if you haven't read any of the other books, but go out and read them first and this one will probably feel snoozeworthy in comparison.

Seriously, just read any of these:
Dare Me by Megan Abbott
The Fever by Megan Abbott
Black Iris by Leah Raeder
Boring Girls by Sara Taylor

I got the feeling that Wasserman was really trying to channel Megan Abbott with this book, but she just didn't capture that secret and psychotic little world of teenage girldom that Abbott knows like the back of her hand. Nor did she nail that "just purple enough" prose that Raeder (now writing under Elliot Wake) has. Or create sympathetic characters with realistic motivations like Taylor.

I don't need to read the ending to be sure what super shocking thing will happen. I knew it as soon as Nikki was introduced in the first chapter. And I do not care for characters who talk like this:
"I love it here in the winter. Everything dead. It feels like being inside a poem, you know?"

Oh wow, you're so deep.

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Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,081 reviews620 followers
November 18, 2021
This book slaps you in the face on the first page and keeps on slapping you until it eventually gives you a good mugging and sends you off to recover, wondering at the sheer brute power of it all.

Set in a town in rural Pennsylvania, we learn of the suicide of a young basketball star at Halloween, 1991. He was found in the woods outside the town, with a gun in his hand and a bullet through his head. The town is small with an isolated, claustrophobic feel to it. The parents fear for their high school children amid rumours of satanic worship and all the other traps awaiting their late teenage charges. So enter Hannah Dexter, a seventeen-year-old who is less than comfortable in her own skin and yet to forge an identity she’s happy with. She forms an unlikely friendship with Lacey Champlain, a grungy, edgy girl who is obsessed with Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain. She persuades Hannah to adopt the moniker ‘Dex’, the Doc Martens wearing garb of the subgenre and the attitude to go with it. Together they ruminate on their mutual hate of their classmate Nikki, ex-girlfriend of the suicide victim. Nikki is pretty and loud and hugely influential amongst their school peer group. And she’s also already upset Hannah by embarrassing her in an incident at school. How to revenge this deed?

The pace and the general feeling of tension never lets up. The language is raw and hard hitting as we tour through the full orbit of alcohol abuse, drugs, bullying, suicide and Satanism. We experience the highs and lows of the relationships between the girls and we see, up close, the perils and pitfalls of being a parent. It’s harrowing and it’s funny. It’s brilliantly done.

For the most part we see the tale unfold through Hannah’s narration, but this sometimes switches to Lacey’s ‘reveal’ to Hannah and at other times we get a view from ‘them’ (the parents). I thought this change of perspective worked brilliantly. It allowed the story to unfold in a non-linear way that at no point felt clunky or contrived. It also allowed the feeling of mystery surrounding the suicide to develop to a near ear rupturing tension.

This tale of growing up, of passion and of rebellion is one of the most compelling reads I’ve experienced in a long time. It’s believable, shocking and surprising in equal measure. The ending was not what I’d expected and I’m still trying to come to terms with this aspect. I defy any discerning reader not to appreciate the sheer quality of writing and story telling ability demonstrated here.

My thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Chelsea Humphrey.
1,483 reviews79k followers
Shelved as 'dnf-lost-interest'
August 18, 2016
Would normally just remove from my books, but I won this as a Goodreads giveaway and don't want it to be marked as not reviewed. DNF this one, just skimmed major chunks as I couldn't get into it. Funny, this one and The Girls by Emma Cline were my 2 most anticipated summer reads, but I expected to love this one and be disappointed with the latter, but it ended up being flip flopped for me. I'm sure there's a major crowd for this one, just wasn't for me.
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,606 reviews5,989 followers
June 20, 2016
There has been a suicide in the small town of Battle Creek, one of the stars of the school went into the woods and took his life, leaving his super popular girlfriend Nikki to rule the school on her own.
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She tortures everyone equally but Hannah Dexter feels like she singles her out. She loathes Nikki.

Cue in the new girl. Lacey.
Lacey wears Doc Martens, does as she pleases and thinks Kurt Cobain was the gift to the world.
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Lacey becomes Hannah's new bestie. She makes Hannah into "Dex" who doesn't care what anyone thinks and isn't that perfect Hannah anymore. They unite in their mutual hate of Queen Bee Nikki...but what is Lacey's past with Nikki? Since she is new should she have a reason to hate her so much?
The town is still turned over by the guys suicide and then rumors of devil worship and sacrifices begin to surface.
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These characters. I didn't like any of them but I expected that from a book featuring teenage girls. I know what demons they really are, the thing is...I just felt like this book had been done before. So many books now are featuring teenage girls being assholes. Probably because most teenage girls can be assholes.
These girls took that to a whole nuther dimension but still. I will say the writing in this book was excellent and even managed to creep me out at times.
This sucker is def. not young adult.

Booksource: I won a copy of this book off GR First reads.

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The ratings on this one are so divided. I think it's a book that you have to try for yourself. My friends are also divided. You have Andrew's review in which he loved the book and then like me..it fell short for Bonnie.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews857 followers
January 27, 2018
My "Girls Girls Girls" jag continues with Girls On Fire, a foray into literary fiction by Robin Wasserman, who until the publication of this novel in 2016, had been dipping in the Young Adult pool. This was my introduction to the author, whose skills handling a poison pen and translating the venom of teenage girls onto the page are admirable, but whose inability to trust an adult reader, tell a story and get out of her own way turn the kitchen into a mess. I abandoned it at the page 256/356 mark, but started skimming earlier, as Wasserman skips around in time, alternates between narrators but can't hide how little there is in the way of compelling content here.

The story pushes off in November 1991, in the fictional town of Battle Creek in western Pennsylvania. Dullsville to any red-blooded teenager, disquiet and intrigue settle over the town with the suicide of Craig Ellison, a high school football player who beats up weridos and underclassmen for sport. You know, the Neanderthal Jock. Hannah Dexter is another archetype, the Girl Next Door. Hannah barely knew Craig and won't miss him, but her world is shaken by the attention given to her by new student Lacey Champlain, a Riot Grrl who refuses to participate in a silent prayer for Craig and contacting the ACLU, forces the school to drop it for the entire student body.

Humiliated in gym by her monthly cycle and the school's queen bitch Nikki Drummond, Hannah reports to the nurse's office, where she meets Lacey, who convinces Hannah to cut class. The New Kid gives the Girl Next Door a new name ("Dex"), new listening material (Kurt Cobain and his band Nirvana) and transports her on road trips in her crap Buick. Her charisma not only proves irresistible for Dex, but for her father Jimmy, who long ago abandoned his love for music to become a responsible parent. Lacey lives with a groupie mother whose free spirit has been put in check by a religious fundamentalist stepfather she calls the Bastard. Like most teenagers, the girls crave escape.

For six hours, we drove. The Buick bumped and wheezed, the cassette player ate Lacey's third-favorite bootleg, the crumbled AAA maps beaconed our way and while I hovered over a suspiciously discolored toilet seat and then washed by hands with sickly gray soap, examining myself in the mirror for some clue that I'd become the kind of girl who lit out for the territories, some trucker tried to feel up Lacey in the Roy Rogers parking lot. We drove until the car swerved off the highway and into a parking lot gritty with sand, and there we were.

The ocean was endless.

The ocean beat and beat against the shore.

We held hands and let the Atlantic wash over our bare feet. We breathed in salt and spray under the dawning sky.

It was the biggest thing I had ever seen. Lacey gave that to me.

"This is how I'd do it," Lacey said, almost too quiet to hear under the surf. "I'd come out here at night, when the beach was empty, and I'd take an inflatable raft into the water. Then I'd hold on, and let it carry me out. Far enough that no one would ever find me. That I couldn't change my mind. I'd bring my mother's sleeping pills, and my Walkman, and a safety pin. And when I was out far enough that I couldn't hear the waves breaking anymore, that the raft was just bobbing on the water and there was nothing but me and the stars? I'd do it. In order. The order matters. Pills first, then the safety pin, just a tiny hole in the raft, small enough that it would take some time. Then I'd put on the headphones, and lie down on the raft so I could see the stars and feel the water in my hair, and I'd let Kurt sing me home."

Open up Girls on Fire to any page and this novel has the appearance of being good. Wasserman is a detail freak, which I love. She succumbs to nostalgia fever by setting her story in 1991, at the end of the Reagan-Bush era in a town gripped by paranoia of Satanic cults and teen suicide, but I found this choice was a function of the author drawing on her girlhood as opposed to marketing. Lacey Champlain is the fierce, otherworldly badass we all wish we were in high school and was forceful enough to sustain my interest for a while. Wasserman introduces pieces to suggest that they'll click sooner or later into a story.

The more fiction I read, the less patience I have for the multiple narrator device. It's creative and it disrupts what's truly important: the story. Imagine having mind blowing sex with someone and they get up to leave in mid-coitus, signaling someone else take over for them. This is not my idea of a groovy time. None of my favorite novels--Lolita, The Razor's Edge, The Last Picture Show, Of Mice and Men--use such a reader alienating device. Multiple narrators might be more beneficial to authors who struggle to maintain focus in the years it takes to finish a novel as opposed to readers who really want to hear from multiple narrators in one book.

Wasserman's effort to write a novel does remind me of an author who might have written five or six pages at a time, came back next weekend and continued, unaware how many paragraphs she'd already devoted to Kurt Cobain, to Christian phonies, to co-dependent friendships. Girls on Fire goes round and round with some terrific language and strong images--I liked her description of an abandoned train station in the woods where the local kids go to experiment without parental supervision--but the answer to the most essential question I have for any novel--Do I want to know what happens on the next page--ultimately fails here completely.
Profile Image for Emma.
986 reviews1,004 followers
May 18, 2016
The blurb says that this 'stands alongside The Virgin Suicides in its brilliant portrayal of female adolescence, but with a power and assurance all its own'. This is certainly the case, but despite its themes, Eugenides' book is a quiet one. This is not: it is loud and brash and vibrant. It shouts at the reader. These girls do not take the path of quiet surrender, they push and fight and live. It is both a celebration of youth, the fire that burns within the young, and a warning that such fire can destroy, even as it enthrals us.

Wasserman has created one of the best portrayals of people i've read this year: the nature of the human character, relationships, the differences between who we are inside and what we show to the world, morality, death. The juxtaposition of voices reveals secret lives, secret thoughts, secret selves. From Hannah (Dex), to Lacey, to the flashes of Hannah or Nikki’s mum, there is something recognisable in each character, an aspect of female experience that is relatable, but not always positive. Their inner thoughts display the chasm between who they want to be and how things turned out; the tiny ways other people have turned them away from who they are; the underlying dislike and distain for those ‘friends’, those ‘loves’ who have been part of creating this person they don’t want to be, because they don’t recognise the fakery.

On top of all that, the plot races along, never boring for a second, and takes the reader to places they weren’t expecting to go. Right until the final chapter, I wasn’t sure how it would end.

Anyway, I loved it. I want to tell people about it. I think you should read it.

Massive thanks to Robin Wasserman, Little, Brown Book Group UK, and Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews609 followers
April 29, 2016
I was curious about this book. I debated about requesting it from Netgalley at least a half dozen times.

I have mixed feelings. I don't hate it. Yet, I don't love it. I 'thought I was prepared for 'darkness'...but maybe not. I appreciate the authors talent... a skillful writer.

Yet, for me....( perhaps it's my mood, or age, 64 this month) , but I felt 'removed' rather than engaged from so much swearing...
let alone the violence.
I didn't feel the power - my emotions were not invested. I was observing this story more than being part of it.
The best message I take from this novel is choose your friends wisely...
and support your children doing the same.

Thank You Little Brown Book Group, Netgalley, and Robin Wasserman

Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,483 reviews7,781 followers
August 26, 2016
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

2.5 Stars

Hannah Dexter has lived in the same small town her entire life. As her father so eloquently puts it . . .

“You couldn’t shit your own bed in Battle Creek without your neighbor showing up to wipe your ass.”

The story takes place when the Real World was the hottest thing on television and Sun-In rather than Kool-Aid was a way for teens to change their hair color. It was a time when boy bands like this were popular . . . .

(I should be ashamed of myself for having spent my hard earned dollars on this cassette.)

Some things were still the same, however . . . .

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That is, until the new girl came to school . . .

“Lacy Champlain had a stripper’s name and a trucker’s wardrobe, all flannel shirts and clomping boots that – stranded as we were in what Lacey later called the butt crack of western Pennsylvania – we didn’t yet recognize as a pledge of allegiance to grunge.”

Lacy takes Hannah – or Dex as Lacy renames her – under her wing and shows her the wilder side of life . . . . maybe too wild for everyone to come out unscathed.

After reading this I have now discovered there may be only two kinds of people in this world – those who love Kurt Cobain and those who think that the only good thing to ever came out of Nirvana was this guy . . . .

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There was a lot of focus on ol’ Kurt and I am just not a fan . . .

I know I know. Girls On Fire also suffered from the same overwriting that made me dislike The Girls so much . . . .

“I loved it. Loved it like Shakespearean sonnets and Hallmark cards and all that shit, like I wanted to buy it flowers and light it candles and fuck it gently with a chainsaw.”

In fact, the only thing I enjoyed was the “mean girl” - which I realize should not happen, but . . .

“She never gave a shit about you. All that energy you put into hating her, and still you were nothing to her.”


I don’t know. I just was not feeling this one at all. I’d say I read it wrong, per usual, but since I actually was a teenager during the 90s so zero of the references were lost on me as well as the fact that I farking looooooove every teenage girl book written by Megan Abbott which this was supposed to be comparable to I’m not willing to take all the blame.
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
July 16, 2018
I read this as part of my 2018 Pop Sugar reading challenge: a book about or set on Halloween 🎃. Two teenage girls gone wild in suburbia in the 1990s, the time of the Grunge movement and Satanic cult mania according to Girls on Fire. I didn't care for the girls, the writing style (stream of consciousness), or the nihilism inherent in the author's theme. The characters are cruel, narcissistic, or vapid. Their parents are soulless, childish, or clueless. I reject everything mostly about the book except for its homage to Kurt Cobain who was awesomely talented and lost and was a point of light for those who loved him.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Es Summer .
72 reviews175 followers
June 10, 2016

"Try not to see them, I dare you.
Girls everywhere.
Nobody special, two nobodies.
Except that together, they're radioactive.
Together, they glow.
Watch them split a pair of earbuds and stare up at the clouds,
their secret soundtrack carving shapes in the sky."

Girls on Fire is everything I love in books nowadays.
Women empowerment dressed in flannel shirts, boots that can take over the world, sticky lip-glosses and flowery parfum.
This book shows the obsessive side of female friendships; how dark it can get, how possessive and wild. How crazy passionate it can be.

"The girls,
neither of them knowing how little time they have left before the fire goes out.
Remember how good it felt to burn."

Girls on Fire is written like perfection, very descriptive with a clever observation on girls and their hidden, secret inner lives that they share with close friends in whispered carefulness.
I love how girls are portrayed in this book; so much more than meets the eye while still being somewhat regular. Every situation is sketched like something more, no one is ordinary, even if it seems so.

The story is set in the early nineties. Hannah Dexter is a good girl who changes her entire life when she meets Lacey. Hannah becomes Dex and together they are explosive, with a shared love that is as tender as it is violent. Their friendship is beautiful in its destructiveness yet vulnerability that it kept me hooked.
I had to know what would happen next.

This book tackles a lot of subjects that we all struggle with in our daily lives.
Our true identities versus what we show the world is discussed in a poetic way that is so gripping. You cannot not love these girls. So humanly, but otherworldly as well. Mesmerizing characters that are too complex to really comprehend but also described in a vivid manner like they really exist, somewhere. Setting fire to the rain, giggling while doing it.

"See them in their golden hour,
a flood of girls high on the ecstasy of the final bell,
tumbling onto the city bus,
all gawky limbs and Wonderbra cleavage,
chewed nails picking at eruptive zits,
lips nibbling and eyes scrunching in a doomed attempt not to cry."

This novel is a feminist manifestation due to saying goodbye to biases we have when it comes to gender. There are all sorts of girls; good girls, mean girls, evil girls, but all of them are powerful and have a story to tell. There are no guys needed to do the saving.
The story is centered on girls - hating each other, loving each other - and it is so empowering and passionate.
The girls are not perfect, another prejudice we have when it comes to gender. Women are often viewed as the passive gender while men are portrayed as more animalistic and sexual predators.
In this story, the girls are animalistic too and they are portrayed with a vivid imagination that shows they have forbidden desires as well or even the need for vengeance.
It was refreshing compared to a lot of other stories nowadays that describe the female protagonist as 'perfect', 'shy', 'beautiful' and 'kind'.
I do not have a problem with those personality characteristics in any way, however, I do feel the need to express that female protagonists are often portrayed as perfect and that is just not the truth.
Girls have bitten nails and chipped nail polish.
They have zits and other imperfections.
They love, they hate, they sob,
It can cute, but it also can be explosive, vengeful, hurtful, raw and gritty.
This story showed that side of women with a prose that was breath-taking.

"We would be ghosts.
We would disappear from the mundane world into one of our own making.
We would be wild.
We would be free.
This was the promise we made to each other, and this,
if nothing else, we would keep."

Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,116 followers
February 20, 2017
Not entirely sure wtf I just read. Felt like the author used extreme topics just for the sake of being extreme, rather than as a narrative or plot device.
'Average teen' Hannah Dexter meets Kurt Cobain loving rebel Lacey and shortly becomes her shadow, dressing like her, acting like her and generally doing whatever she says. Drugs, sex etc. follow.
When Lacey leaves Hannah feels lost and is swiftly picked up by 'it girl' Nikki Drummond who has an awful grudge against Lacey. Hannah's identity then swings to match Nikki's - like this girl cant find her own personality?!
Whole book just follows Hannah's progression between these two 'friendships' and the horrible things that happen to her during this time including sexual assault, animal slaughter and severe drug and alcohol abuse.
The end provides a shocking finale - I won't give it away but it felt like Wasserman had to have such a horrific ending to round up all the other terrible acts throughout.
I couldn't really relate to any of the characters - guess I clearly didn't know anyone that horrible or fucked up when I was in school but to me it just seemed unrealistic and the violence was just massively overplayed for a setting of a small American Town. Didn't really work for me.
Profile Image for Rae Meadows.
Author 7 books413 followers
July 1, 2016
It doesn't surprise me that reviews have been all over the map for this book. I think Robin Wasserman is a super talented writer--the prose is propulsive, electric, the manic energy of the protagonists is compelling--but I don't know about the book. I liked reading it, but I wasn't moved. At times I felt like it was trying too hard, other times I got a little bored. It's not hard to guess the big plot reveals, though I kept reading to see how they would unfold. (I was reminded of that story of the the two girls in Wisconsin who stabbed their friend because of Slender Man.) But it's not to say that someone else wouldn't love this book, and the deep-dive into a twisted, obsessive female friendship. I think I just didn't connect to it as I'd hoped. At times I felt like I was reading YA but with an NC-17 rating. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was missing a larger sense for me. A great title and cover--I'm sure it will be brought to the screen. And I am interested in what the writer does next.
Profile Image for Lala BooksandLala.
500 reviews63.9k followers
May 24, 2017
Gah, I really loved this. It probably gets a 4.5 out of 5; I'm a sucker for a good gritty destructive female friendship story, and this one was superbly written.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,471 reviews1,009 followers
November 24, 2015
So it's WAY too early to write a full review of Girls on Fire but for now I will say this.

It's a book I'm going to get fanatical about and will be trying to persuade everyone to read in 2016. It is powerful, hard hitting, so full of beautiful and yes often unrelentingly hard hitting language, the very definition of words having power. It sucked me in and stole my soul. On the list of reads I'll never forget this just went somewhere near the top of the pile.

I will read it again. And my "Quotes" book in which I keep a note of all the quotes from books that speak to me hard in the moment has over 3 pages added to it from this novel alone. So, you know. There it is.
Profile Image for Theresa.
232 reviews142 followers
August 18, 2017
"Girls on Fire" by Robin Wasserman is a hot mess! This novel had all the potential to be something great based on the synopsis. The plot sounded so intriguing to me. A murder mystery of sorts in a small town in the early '90s. The story centers around two classmates with two very different upbringings becoming unlikely allies. Basically, Hannah is the good girl (very naïve). Lacey is the bad girl (very manipulative). And Craig is their popular classmate who mysteriously commits suicide on Halloween night. I must admit, I was somewhat smitten for the first 50 pages, after that, the plot shifts a bit and ends up in the ditch, dragging its way back to the curb, but never quite getting there. This book is boring, tedious, dumb, and just plain sick. The sex scenes were vulgar and unrealistic. The friendship between Hannah and Lacey was so shallow, and the dialogue was ridiculous. "Girls on Fire" is pure silliness. Sex, drugs, violence and repeat...10 more times. Ugh. Pointless, contrived, and wildly predictable. I could smell Lacey's "secret" from a million miles away. Don't waste your time with this trash. You'll thank me later.
Profile Image for Jules.
1,049 reviews198 followers
May 11, 2016
Wow, this is a cracker!

This completely sucked me in from the very beginning, made me feel nostalgic about my own adolescence, messed around with my memories, distorting them, then spat me out the other end wondering which my real memories were, and which I’d just allowed to be shaped to fit along with the storyline.

If you’re like me, and grew up in the 1990s, loved rock music and lived in Doc Martens then this may be the story for you. I saved up for my first pair of Docs in 1991 when I was just 13 years old (my dad paid half) and I lived in that pair until I was 17, having to buy a new pair as I had worn the previous pair out.

Be warned, this is a dark, gritty and twisted story filled with all the complex challenges of being a teenager. If you’re willing to read about alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, bullying, insecurities, death, Satanism, and general pushing of boundaries, then I highly recommend this book.

Girls on Fire is an uncomfortably real feeling story (I want to insert ‘experience’ here instead of ‘story’) that I found really hard to put down.

I found this story thought provoking and was surprised how much I related to it. It made me realise how lucky I was not to get myself into this much trouble as a teenager, brought back memories of situations that could have ended up much worse, and reminded me of other people and situations I would much rather forget about all over again.

I would like to thank the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group for allowing me a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Bill Kupersmith.
Author 1 book203 followers
May 26, 2016
Imagine John Hughes’s The Breakfast Club remade by Quintain Tarantino with a soundtrack by Nirvana instead of Simple Minds & R-rated for nudity, sex, violence & language. That’s how I envision a movie version of Girls on Fire. The setting is “the butt crack of western Pennsylvania”--an imaginary rust-belt town called Battle Creek somewhere near Pittsburgh, Bruce Springsteen country. The plot involves discovering what happened to the high-school athlete Craig Ellison, an apparent suicide by gunshot, & a struggle for the soul of Hannah Dexter, a junior @ the school. Her BF, the grunge-girl wild-child worshipper of Kurt Cobain, Lacey Champlain, wants to turn “Dex” into a goth-girl; their frenemy, teen-princess Nikki Drummond, would transform “Hannah” into a Monongahela Valley Girl.

In fiction these days it is the teens who are resourceful & knowledgable & the adults who are helpless & clueless. That is not surprising when the parents themselves think that they are still teenagers, exemplified by Dex’s father Jimmy, whose mid-life crisis he would resolve by restarting his old garage band & fumbling with Lacey in the darkened movie theater where he barely manages to hold down a job. Of course real teenagers are much better @ being teenagers than are 40-somethings.

Setting in the early ‘90s is both realistic & somewhat overdone. Battle Creek seems overrun with “Christian” fundamentalists obsessed with Satanism. There was a scare about devil worshippers @ that time, but I think it centered more on day-care facilities than on high schools. I’d prefer to believe that even @ that time & place Hannah would have been recognized & treated as a rape victim rather than as a Satanic bad girl after what happened to her in the aftermath of Nikki’s foreclosure party. Perhaps fortunately, Lacey’s horrible stepfather--“the Bastard”--seemed too OTT as well, tho’ Lacy’s experience @ the “Christian” reform school was wonderfully harrowing, if gratuitous. I felt the author had to pad the narrative, the year that elapses after Craig’s death: the plot needed the economy, concentration & punch that Megan Abbott might have given it. This book needs toning, less sag & tighter story. The ‘90s setting was probably chosen less for the ambience of the period (tho’ we get an allusion to that very middle-aged teenager Bill Clinton) than that Kurt Cobain needed to still be alive.

I loved the main characters Dex & Lacey, & even Nikki attracted me despite herself. But I found the very end of the story deflated & boring, as if the author simply gave up instead of devising a conclusion appropriate to the characters, unless like another Hannah, Arendt, Robin Wasserman wanted to portray the banality of evil. Morally tho’, I have reflect a lot more on Dex’s choice. Unlike in The Secret History, here the question of how far you should go for someone you love is much harder to answer. Committing a crime to save a friend & wanting to implicate a friend to share your guilt may be the same legally, but morally they are world’s apart.

With Girls on Fire, Robin Wasserman belongs on the level with Megan Abbott, but more the Abbott of Fever than of Dare Me. I intend to read parts of this one again (wonderful to have both Kindle & audio), but probably not all the way through. So five stars--but one’s a bit dim.
Profile Image for Stacee.
2,740 reviews712 followers
June 28, 2016
DNF at 80%

I loved the premise of the book, but I knew it probably wasn't going to be my thing as soon as I was a couple of pages in.

I didn't like the MCs or the way the chapters shifted to different POVs. Everything felt manic and the dialogue was vulgar and it was an effective way to keep me cringing. And keep me reading.

Until I got to a sleepover party scene where the girls make one of the MCs watch a video of her {the MC} getting gang raped while passed out. Nope.

**Huge thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for providing the arc in exchange for an honest review**

Edit 6/28/16: I've been told that it comes out that the MC wasn't actually raped. I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse, but it's definitely not enough to get me to finish the story.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,376 reviews930 followers
January 27, 2018
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

‘Origin stories are irrelevant. Nothing matters less than how you were born. What matters is how you die, and how you live. We live for each other, so anything that got us to that point must have been right.’

Girls on Fire left me incredibly conflicted and I sat on my review for several weeks hoping that time would help elucidate my feelings. (It did not. Yet here I am.) Girls on Fire consists of the types of teenagers of a Megan Abbott novel; Dare Me is the one that immediately comes to mind. These teenagers are not the teenagers of a Sarah Dessen novel. They are crude and vulgar, whose actions go well beyond shocking and insulting. I was constantly bouncing back and forth between being impressed by their brazenness and appalled by their impudence. It was a bit exhausting.

‘I loved it. Loved it like Shakespearean sonnets and Hallmark cards and all that shit, like I wanted to buy it flowers and light it candles and fuck it gently with a chainsaw.’

Girls on Fire is set in the early 90s when Nirvana was at the top and Real World was everyone’s obsession. A small town in Pennsylvania is horrified after the supposed suicide of the town jock, Craig Ellison. No one thinks he could have done it but the evidence clearly proves otherwise. While the story begins with Craig’s death, and is constantly affected by it, the girls are center stage. Hannah Dexter is diffident and Lacey Champlain is fearless, so when Lacey takes “Dex” under her wing, their relationship becomes increasingly virulent the more time the duo spend together. Nikki Drummond is the requisite “mean girl” of the school and Lacey and Dex’s whole relationship is based off their shared hatred of her.

The writing was opulent and whenever the story lost me slightly in its meanderings, the writing always kept me enticed. The story though, there was something excessive and tiresome about the way these young women were written. Something superfluous about their actions and their demeanor in general. The relationship between Lacey and Dex was intense and so very exorbitant. It wasn’t that the writing didn’t properly portray their relationship with one another, but rather it was written with such detail that you became a part of them and a part of their relationship. The whole thing was distasteful and depleting and something that you definitely did not want to be a part of.

It’s a coming of age tale, about the metamorphose that, especially in individuals so young, can undergo because of the lives they’re forced to lead and the people they choose to surround themselves with. Bit by bit, each girls story unfolds and I once again found myself torn between how exactly I should be feeling. Despite my wavering opinion and low rating, this was certainly an audacious story to tell and is likely a very accurate portrayal (if a bit extreme) of female relationships and all the dark niches that are rarely exposed.

‘What matters isn’t how we found each other, Dex, or why. It’s that we did, and what happened next. Smash the right two particles together in the right way and you get a bomb. That’s us, Dex. Accidental fusion.’

I received this book free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,065 reviews1,475 followers
May 30, 2016
I received this book in exchange for an honest review on NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Robin Wasserman, and the publisher, Little Brown Book Group, for this opportunity.

This is one of the darkest, deepest and most dazzling books I have ever read!

Girls on Fire follows the story of the dark and almost obsessive relationship between high-school best friends, Hannah and Lacey. I mistakenly, initially took this for a preppy, happy, contemporary read (not my thing) until reviews told me otherwise. The words 'satanic', 'dark' and 'fanatical' were used and my interest was piqued. I am so glad it was as I think this may have taken the top spot for the best book I have read this year, so far!

I opened this book when my mood was low and I wanted to sink into something as dark as the growing night around me. This is an austere read and it did nothing to alleviate my disposition but it did everything to suck me right in! There was latent evil, fanatical behavior, obsessive jealousy, raw and unabashed emotion and outright immaturity demonstrated from each and every character, and yet I identified with them all and could forgive them all their wrongdoings. I fell in love with them and I fell in love with their lives. There was little inherent goodness in this book and that made me look for it all the more.

And in amongst the darkness, I found beauty. Wassermen can tell a story! His subtlety of storytelling was actually what I fell in love with, as I wasn't reading this book at all; I was experiencing it!

There is no way around it, this book is dark! It often transgresses on the taboo and is never apologetic in its language or actions. There is a rawness and realness to the writing that I can only explain felt like a feral scream clawing its way out of the author's pen. This book had to be born! This story had to be told! It might be a dark creation, but it was a necessary one all the same. And yet the dark places this book took me too never felt too...wrong, for want of a better world. This troubles me as there was nothing at all good in this book in respect to the character's individual actions and relationships with each other. And yet it was all forgivable, even when it should not have been. I can't explain how the author aligned me with the protagonists but he did!

It might have been the subtleness of the shifts between actual evil and between teen wrongdoings that allowed me to be sucked into this books madness. Its dark and sexual undertones often border on the salacious but never on the smutty. The dark path this book transgresses on is elucidated in the character's minds and the ones that aren't are the only ones that tip the hierarchy of wrongdoing.

Whatever it was, I am just as unashamedly obsessed as Hannah and Lacey.
Profile Image for Nanna.
254 reviews134 followers
June 11, 2016
This book is soooo F*cked up and so addicting. I could not put it down.

If you enjoy thrillers, destructive relationships, and dark novels this one is for you. It reminds me a lot of Schwab's messed up Vicious characters and recommend both to you
Profile Image for Blair.
1,794 reviews4,437 followers
April 21, 2016
Stories about teenagers are a tricky thing. Should they always - no matter how dark and depraved - be categorised as young adult fiction, merely by dint of their protagonists' ages? (The controversy over the 18 certificate given to the film The Diary of a Teenage Girl springs to mind.) Like the occasional misidentification of literary novels as thrillers because of the presence of certain themes, the assumption that all books with teenage characters are YA tends to irritate me. But in the case of Girls on Fire, I think that assumption might be the best way to view the book.

This novel is a typical narrative of teenage rebellion in which a 'bad girl', Lacey, leads a 'good girl', Hannah - later rechristened Dex - astray. Of course there are twists in the tale, but many of them are equally predictable in their own way. I don't know quite how to sum it up, genre-wise - maybe I need a shelf for coming-of-age novels, or poisonous one-sided friendships, or just stories about teenage lives. The plot's starting point, the question of why the local school's beloved 'golden boy' committed suicide, is a mystery that's eventually explained, but it is irrelevant for much of the story. Dex and Lacey's bond is more the point. They take turns narrating, in chapters that cast light on different aspects of their characters. Lacey, a hero in Dex's eyes, appears first as manipulative and bitchy, then resolves into a tragic figure; Dex, the 'nobody', appears honest, a victim, and resolves into an unreliable narrator.

Robin Wasserman has previously penned a swathe of YA novels, but Girls on Fire is described on her website as her 'debut novel for adults'; nevertheless, at the time of writing, it has been shelved predominantly as young adult on Goodreads, and it feels far better suited to a teenage reader. Retrospectively, the author's existing backround in YA fiction makes perfect sense - Girls on Fire is positively gleeful about not needing to be PG-rated, piling on the underage sex and endless swearing, violence and gore, orgies and vicious bullying. It's much like Lacey herself - her nonconformist posturing and, later, her devil-worshipper act, the ways in which she tries so hard to be shocking but never quite manages to convince anyone other than a handful of her peers.

That said: Girls on Fire is compelling, occasionally even incandescent. The setting, the sleepy town of Battle Creek, is the most beautifully realised thing about the book; certain places, such as the woods and the lake, are thick with atmosphere. Indeed, the things and objects in the story - the music, the clothes, Lacey's car - are more tangible than the protagonists. It's set in the early 90s, so Lacey's obsession with Nirvana makes Kurt Cobain practically a supporting character, and the 'Satanic panic' of that era provides a backdrop to the plot, heightening local parents' suspicion of Lacey and Dex, turning their grunge makeovers into something deeper and more sinister.

Although I keep on saying I'm trying harder to stop being such a sucker for hype, I fell for the the spiel about this one. 'A mini Thelma & Louise as directed by David Lynch', one early review had it. As my Goodreads and Twitter feeds fill up with rave reviews, I have to give a resounding shrug. It's absolutely fine, but for me, it lacked the originality or power that would really have made it a memorable story. Two stars, on Goodreads, is supposed to mean 'it was okay', and that's how my rating is intended; this is not at all a bad book, just assuredly not a book for me, and my main complaint is that I feel like the marketing campaign duped me into reading a story that really belongs to a younger audience.

If you liked this, you'll also like / If you didn't like this, you might prefer...
- Gillian Flynn's Dark Places (my favourite of Flynn's books) is the very obvious comparison, with many similarities to Girls on Fire, including a truly unflinching portrait of the lives of teens, copious amounts of sex/drugs/violence etc, a small-town setting, and suspected Satanism.
- Things We Have in Common by Tasha Kavanagh also focuses on the obsession a 'nobody' has with a much cooler/more popular girl, although the trajectory of the plot is very different. It's a story I found simultaneously more believable, weirder, and more exciting than this one.
- The Secret Place by Tana French is a compelling adult mystery which nevertheless keeps a close, emotive focus on the friendships and rivalries within a group of teenage girls. French's attempts to ape 2010s teenagers' patterns of speech are hit and miss, but when she talks about their emotions and what they care about most, the magic and horror of being that age, she's so spot on it can make for painful flashbacks.

I received an advance review copy of Girls on Fire from the publisher through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Ursula Uriarte.
194 reviews257 followers
June 3, 2016
**I received this book from Harper in exchange for an honest review**

I really wanted to love this book.
I loved the cover.
I loved the premise.
I loved that it was set in the early 90's

There is nothing more disappointing than wanting to love a book but then the book turns up to be just ok.
I didn't hate this book, it was just not for me. I was Hannah's and Lacey's age in the early nineties, big grunge fan, loved Nirvana wore plaid and Docs everywhere I went (still do lol) so after I read the first few pages I thought this would be a book I'd absolutely enjoy and it seemed dark and mysterious but it fell short.

It was beautifully written, some of it almost poetic, but sadly it was just too drawn out.
Girls on Fire is told from Lacey's and Hannah's POV, Lacey's chapters didn't resonate with me at all, they were even boring at times. I liked Hannah, I thought she was an ok character. This book took me almost 3 weeks to finish because I just kept on putting it down, then I realized that midway through the story Lacey goes away and it's just Hannah and Nikki and I really breezed through those chapters and was back into the story so I thought maybe I just needed to give it a chance, but then Lacey came back and again it began dragging for me, so I think my main issue was Lacey's voice.

The ending was not what I expected, I didn't see it coming but it left me scratching my head.
I have tried to think about the point of the whole story since I finished it last night and I still can't come up with anything.

I'm rating it 3 stars because I feel the story was intriguing and Robin's writing was just truly beautiful.

Profile Image for Janet .
342 reviews107 followers
June 8, 2016
Robin Wasserman is not a name I had heard before ..... but if you're going to start somewhere... then start here. This .... blew .... me .... away!!

Yes, it's THAT good!! From the blurb we know that we're going to meet good girl, Hannah and bad girl, Lacey and that a suicide is thrown into the mix at the beginning. What follows is an incredible insight into teenage lives that resonates powerfully. Even if your lives were nothing like this, there is something relateable that is perfectly captured again and again. Everything from teenage dreams, rebellious natures, teenage thinking that they're the first ones that anything has ever happened to them before no matter how many generations have gone before them! We've all been there!! If I had been reading a physical book, line after line would have been highlighted to be devoured again at later times.

The storytelling is powerful as we're led through this incredible journey of young girls discovering themselves and their boundaries. How far they're prepared to go to 'escape' whether through music, stimulants or boys. Though some would find this shocking because these girls take it to levels most wouldn't, I couldn't help but love that those boundaries were pushed and laid out bare for the reader. For me the author perfectly captured a moment in time when dreams were real and achievable; yearnings taken to points of destruction whilst delivering a whole bucketful of nostalgia with panoramic clarity.

Girls On Fire - teenage angst at it's most heady, rebellious, soul destroying, destructive best.

Loved it!
Profile Image for Scottsdale Public Library.
3,283 reviews262 followers
May 10, 2022
"Three girls go into the woods; two came out." This intriguing description is quite the attention-getter in the well-written novel of girlhood friendships gone wrong. In the small town of Battle Creek, Pennsylvania, everyone knows everyone else, so the gossips are in full force when shy, nerdy Hannah forms a bond with a fellow high school student, Lacey, the grunge-loving rebel. The third part of this triangle is Nikki, a golden-haired beauty with a wicked tongue and an air of wide-eyed innocence that others willingly buy into. When Nikki's boyfriend commits suicide in the woods on Halloween, the stage is set for a dark and riveting tale of love, hate, friendship and revenge.
~Louisa A.
Profile Image for Joanne Robertson.
1,363 reviews557 followers
May 5, 2016
Whoa this made for some very uncomfortable reading! A very dark and sometimes distressing book that every mum of teenage girls should read- your teenagers antics won't seem so bad after reading this! As one who struggled with those difficult teenage years both as a mum and as a teenage girl myself, I totally got where this book was coming from. Teenage girls can be so intense, especially when it comes to relationships and with the viciousness that it can create when things go wrong. It can lead to a fallout that affects all those they are close to...

This is the story of Hannah (Dex) and Lacey and how the coming together of their two personalities can be like mixing 2 chemicals-on their own they are safe but mixed together and they becomes explosive and unstable. Hannah is the good girl with a supportive family life while Lacey is the bad girl obsessed by Kurt Cobain. It is told from both girls point of view with the occasional insight into their families perspective as well.

This was an unsettling read, containing sexual scenes sometimes of a violent nature, that really got right inside the heads of two disturbed teenage girls. The themes of sexual awakening along with a side of religious conflict seemed well suited to its setting of small town suburbia in the nineties. It was hard hitting, gripping to read but in an uncomfortable way as you were preparing yourself for that moment you knew was coming, the explosive finale. You know from the start that there has been a suicide of a young man in the woods. As he was the boyfriend of the local "mean girl" Nikki, we also know there could be a connection especially as she appears to be a joint projection of hated for Lacey and Dex. When that moment came, even though I knew that something dark and disturbing was going to happen, it was was still a shock!

This book has taken me a few days to review. Once I finished it I felt a bit grubby as if I had been a voyeur, watching the girls from a distance while they carried out their relationship. It was probably my maternal instincts kicking in and I had that awful feeling of not being able to stop something that had been inevitable from the day that girls had first met. It was a weird feeling I have to admit and although I can't say I loved the book, it inspired such a strong emotion in me that I have to admire that! The world of the teenage girl (with all its rush of hormones, social hierarchy and general nastiness at times!) is well explored here showing how the choices you make, when you come to that crossroads, can have a lasting affect for many years to come.

At times I found Girls on Fire a bit of a slow burner and sometimes I also had to flick back to see if Hannah or Lacey were narrating as they had such a similar voice but this just added to that feeling of two different perspectives becoming one. A true coming of age drama with a dark twist.

I received a copy of this book via netgalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Lynx.
198 reviews83 followers
March 1, 2016
Hannah has always lived life in the background. Quiet, polite, just plain boring. So when Lacey, the schools new beautiful, dangerous rebel defends her against Nikki, the school bully, Hannah feels something she never imagined possible, special. Desperate to hang onto that feeling, Hannah adopting the new nickname ‘Dex’, blindly follows Lacey down a dark destructive path. But Lacey isn’t as strong and independent as she appears. Both girls feel a desperate need each other and their friendship turns into one of toxic obsession. Their passion for one another fuelled by drugs, bullying, peer pressure and a lack of support and stability at home lead them to an event that will change their lives forever.

Equally compelling as it is disturbing, Wasserman’s beautifully written novel about the power and destructiveness of teenage friendships really puts it’s reader through the emotional ringer. Her choice of alternating the narrative between the central characters keeps you on your toes and offers deep insight into her leads state of mind. This intense, complex story will stick with you long after reading.

*Thank you Harper and Edelweiss for this review copy.
Profile Image for Tracy Fenton.
953 reviews180 followers
November 26, 2015
A very uncomfortable yet gripping powerful story of growing up, fitting in and obsession. Told from the point of view of Lacey, a 17 year old bad girl and Hannah (Dex), a 17 year old misfit who so desperately wants to fit in somewhere/anywhere. Covering satanism, bullying, teenage sex, drinking, drugs, parental neglect, suicide and so much more. An intense and chilling book that makes me glad I am no longer a teenager!
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