Editor’s picks: Novels

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The Burning Girl: A Novel by Claire Messud, W. W. Norton & Company, US $25.95, Pp 256, August 2017, ISBN 978-0393635027

The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, US $26.00, Pp 272, August 2017, ISBN 978-0544750333

Friend Request by Laura Marshall, Grand Central Publishing, US $26.00, Pp 384, September 2017, ISBN 978-1478948513

Julia and Cassie went to the nursery school together and have been close friends ever since. They shared everything. Both wished to escape the stifling environment in the quiet town of Royston, Massachusetts, the city of their birth. As adolescents, their paths start diverging as Cassie chooses a life that puts her life in danger and shatters her friendship with Julia. The Burning Girl is not as simple a tale as it appears to be at the beginning. Claire Messud explores the stories young girls tell themselves about youth and friendship. She also tries to see the difference between childhood’s imaginary worlds and painful realities of the real world. Messud beautifully captures the uncertainties that are associated with friendship and adolescence. These uncertainties actually shape who we become. The Burning Girl is a portrait of female adolescence with all its complexities and vulnerabilities.  It is so emotionally compelling and impeccably written. Messud has a deep and clear understanding of female adolescence psychology.

Claire Messud is a recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is the author of five previous works of fiction. Her most recent novel is The Woman Upstairs.

*****

The Dark Net is set in present-day Portland, Oregon. The Dark Net is an anonymous and often criminal arena that exists hidden in the far reaches of the Web. Some use it to manage Bitcoins or pirate movies and videos, while others use it to sell drugs and stolen goods. It is now threatening to spread virally in the real world unless the members of a ragtag crew stop it. Twelve-year-old Hannah is fitted with the Mirage, a high-tech visual prosthetic to combat her blindness. She sees shadows surrounding some people around her but cannot understand why. Lela is a technophobic journalist and has stumbled upon a story everybody wants her to kill it. Mike Juniper, a one-time child evangelist, suffers from personal and literal demons. He has stockpiled an arsenal of weapons in the basement of the homeless shelter he runs. Finally, Derek, a hacker with a cause, believes he is a soldier of the Internet and a part of a cyber army like the Anonymous. But, they are all clueless about what the Dark Net really contains. Percy is known for building worlds and he has built another one in The Dark Net. His new world is in the cyberspace and it is as fast paced as life in cyberspace is. It is packed with action, suspense, and dark conspiracy theories. A rare cyber thriller that will keep your eyes focused as you turn pages breathlessly.

Benjamin Percy is the winner of a Whiting Award, a Plimpton Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the author of the novels The Dead Lands, Red Moon, and The Wilding, two story collections, and an essay collection Thrill Me. Percy also writes the Green Arrow and Teen Titans series for DC Comics. He lives in Minnesota with his family.

*****

Louise first met Maria in 1989 when both of them were in their senior year at school. Maria was both funny and brash. Maria was the kind of girl who makes other girls jealous. They, however, became close friends within a few days. Let us fast forward to 2016! Louise receives a friend request on the Facebook from Maria Weston. But she thought Maria is dead. Long buried memories quickly resurface. She recalls those first days of their friendship and the cruel decisions they made and secrets they kept. Most importantly, the night their lives changed forever. But if the truth came out, Louise would lose everything including her job, her son, and her freedom. Will the truth also come out after Maria’s sudden reappearance? As Louise learns what happened that night, she realizes there is a lot more to what she knew about what happened that night. Louise cannot keep her secret unless she uncovers the whole truth. It is a brilliant debut novel. The story is both suspenseful and a bit of scary. Laura Marshall is a natural storyteller. One of those novels you tremendously enjoy and want to finish in one sitting.

Laura Marshall was shortlisted for several international awards for an as-yet-unpublished work for her debut novel Friend Request. She lives in Kent, England.