cover image Girls on Fire

Girls on Fire

Robin Wasserman. Harper, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-241548-6

For her first adult novel, Wasserman (The Waking Dark) doesn’t stray far from her YA wheelhouse, with this overwrought if intermittently powerful tale of the increasingly toxic relationship between two outcast high school girls. It’s 1991 in stodgy Battle Creek, Pa., not long after the apparent suicide of jock Craig Ellison, boyfriend of the school’s reigning mean girl, Nikki Drummond, and neither the lumpy, socially awkward Hannah Dexter nor the rebellious Kurt Cobain–acolyte Lacey Champlain fits in. So it seems only natural when the pair begin to bond over their seemingly shared hatred of Nikki. But unbeknownst to Hannah (or “Dex,” as the alpha Lacey rechristens her), Lacey is abused at home by a holy roller stepfather and alcoholic mother and has secrets that threaten both of them, not least a smoldering hidden past with Nikki. Wasserman attempts to imbue her keenly observed junior Thelma and Louise with broader social resonance about girlhood and empowerment, but for many readers the take-home message may instead be that not all unhappy lives prove compelling. (May)