Completed 9/9/2015, Reviewed 9/25/2015
Short fiction at its best is like an “amuse bouche”, something that tastes wonderful even though it only lasts for a short while. “Burning Girls” is a delicious novella on the shorter side that packs a literary punch in its short thirty-two pages. The story is about a young girl at the turn of the century in a small Jewish village in eastern Europe. Rather than learning a trade, she apprentices to her grandmother as a healer, or basically, a witch. Her sister learns a more practical trade, sewing. When the Cossacks all but destroy the village, she and her sister leave for America, bringing their talents to the new world. However, long before they left, their grandmother made a deal with an evil spirit that now follows them to their new home.
The book is actually a retelling of a fairy tale with a modern twist. It touches on multiple issues, unions and poor working conditions, women’s rights, religion, and sexuality, weaving them into the narrative seamlessly and without feeling like an “issues” story. The characters are also really well developed, specifically, the main character. She’s an outsider, feeling different, but finding her place in the village. When she comes to America, she finds a way to continue her healing practice amongst the other immigrants, and of course is the one who must take on the evil that has followed them there.
But I have to be honest: I don’t know what fairy tale this is a retelling of. I’ve done a lot of searching on the internet to try to find out, but all the reviews I read made sure to avoid the spoiler. What I do know is that it’s a terrific tale. Telling much more would also be a spoiler, the problem with reviewing short fiction. Suffice it to say, I really loved this story and was blown away by the ending. It was the first time in a while that I had to actively breathe and relax upon finishing a book. Five stars out of five.