ARC Review: Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes

In Burning Girls and Other Stories, Veronica Schanoes crosses borders and genres with stories of fierce women at the margins of society burning their way toward the center. This debut collection introduces readers to a fantasist in the vein of Karen Russell and Kelly Link, with a voice all her own.

Emma Goldman—yes, that Emma Goldman—takes tea with the Baba Yaga and truths unfold inside of exquisitely crafted lies. In “Among the Thorns,” a young woman in seventeenth century Germany is intent on avenging the brutal murder of her peddler father, but discovers that vengeance may consume all that it touches. In the showstopping, awards finalist title story, “Burning Girls,” Schanoes invests the immigrant narrative with a fearsome fairytale quality that tells a story about America we may not want—but need—to hear.

Dreamy, dangerous, and precise, with the weight of the very oldest tales we tell, Burning Girls and Other Stories introduces a writer pushing the boundaries of both fantasy and contemporary fiction.

I knew nothing about the author or this collection itself when I requested an arc of this book. All I saw was that stunning cover and title, and I knew I wanted to read it. And it didn’t disappoint. While there were a couple of misses, this is a beautifully written collection of stories about women – resilient women who have to find the strength within themselves to overcome very harsh circumstances – they might not always succeed but they never give up. The writing itself has a very fairytale-esque feel to it and it made the whole experience quite magical but also horrific at times. Definitely worth a read if you enjoy short stories with feminist fairytale themes and lots of Jewish religious and cultural elements.

Among the Thorns

Featuring a mother goddess and young girl full of grief, this is a story about antisemitic violence across centuries, how it has affected so many families, and what might happen if someone decides to take revenge. This is also the tale of a mother’s love and her abundant capacity for compassion, even in dire circumstances.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

How to Bring Someone Back from the Dead

This was too short for me to form a concrete opinion about it. But its about what lengths you will go to for the one you love and while its an interesting theme, the story didn’t live up to it.

⭐️⭐️

Alice: A Fantasia

This seems like some kind of a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, but the second half was very confusing after a fascinating first half.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Phosphorus

Set against the backdrop of unskilled workers strikes for better wages and working conditions during 19th century London, this is a poignant tale of resilient women doing everything they can to survive their brutal circumstances and unimaginable suffering.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ballroom Blitz

CW: gore, depression, self harm

Another story where I might not have completely understood the point, but the depiction of rage, despair, helplessness and depression through the writing was very on point.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Serpents

This was quite frankly very weird because I am terrified of snakes and this story was full of very vivid descriptions of snakes as well as other creatures.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Emma Goldman Takes Tea with the Baba Yaga

An excellent mix of history, politics and fairytale – this is a story about the promise of revolution; particularly the Bolshevik revolution; but how ultimately it turned on its own principles and its people, becoming a dictatorship that oppressed everyone. Despite the hopeless tone of the story, it’s also a call to remember that revolutions may not be kind, but the present regimes are equally cruel.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Rats

CW: body horror, self harm, drug use, mental health issues

This was a difficult read and the story was very bleak, but it’s also about the futility of self harm and how so many young teenagers across the world are dealing with drug abuse and mental health issues, and how they need more support instead of recriminations.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lost in the Supermarket

CW: animal mutilation

Ironically, I was also lost in this story and not in a good way. It was interesting to read but I just couldn’t figure out what it was meant to signify. Or atleast the bit that clicked for me was about how our supermarket aisles are filled with varieties of every item and some of us find it hard to even choose, but there are so many others who still go hungry. Vividly written but probably it just wasn’t for me. The numerous pop culture references (which I had no clue about) didnt help either.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Swimming

This was another weird story but I have to give it to the author, the descriptions here were very impressive and amusingly grotesque. And I think I understood the idea of losing ourselves so much in our ambition to achieve something, that we forget why we started out in the first place and that’s why it’s important to keep our feet on the ground always.

⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

Lily Glass

The story of two young women trying to find their identity and come into their own, this was beautiful, emotional and bittersweer.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Revenant

CW: child abuse

This was another difficult read and the author truly captures the loneliness and troubles of a young girl who just needs someone to listen to her but life isn’t fair. The author explores trauma in a speculative manner and I thought it was very well written.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Burning Girls

The author ends this collection with another story that sets off against the backdrop of antisemitic violence, which forces two young sisters to move to the New World, and fight both human and supernatural demons in their struggle for survival. It is exquisitely written, full of emotion and wonder and pain and I can’t think of a better conclusion or titular story.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Tor.com for providing me with the advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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