Her story of a childhood friendship, recounted in the voice of a girl of 16 or 17, does not demonise adulthood or dismiss maturity as valueless; but neither does it say that growing up is going to help much. These children are not merciless judges of their parents, or vice versa. There is a good deal of sympathetic understanding on both sides. The problem, perhaps, is not so much power misused by adults against the helpless as a general powerlessness ... There is a lot of grief in this novel. I resist novelists who want to take me on a guilt trip and at first I thought that’s what Messud was doing, but I was wrong. Her novel is, rather, a kind of ceremony of mourning ...Painful as it may be, this is a hard book to stop reading. Messud is a story teller: the ability to compel and hold the reader’s interest may not be the crown and summit of the art of novel-writing, but it’s the beginning and the end of it. And despite some rather self-conscious passages and improbabilities of voice, the story rewards the reader right through to the end.
Messud is an absolute master storyteller and bafflingly good writer ... It is that combination of imagination and skill that makes The Burning Girl exceptional, more so than the story itself, which sometimes veers into the ordinary and unexamined ... The Burning Girl is at its best when it amplifies that subtle, piercing shift between Cassie and Julia, made brighter by passages of sheer splendorous prose.
The Burning Girl is a story about stories — their power, necessity and inevitable artifice. What does it matter if the tale of how Julia and Cassie met is Julia’s own recollection or her mother’s memory grafted onto hers? Both, Messud suggests, are destined to be equally false ... In a bravura section later in the book, Messud describes a particularly awful rite of passage for teenage girls — accepting a ride from a not-quite-stranger, only to be terrified by what didn’t happen ... Messud, always an interesting novelist, a writer who crafts superb sentences, sometimes has trouble ceding the novel’s voice to Julia. Yes, Julia is a star debater and an 'A' student, but I wasn’t persuaded that she could form and express these ideas so elegantly, even within the stylized artifice of a novel that’s calling out stylized artifice. The Burning Girl is a Lifetime movie of a novel, one that argues that the inchoate pain caused by a friendship’s end is the story. As someone who doesn’t use 'Lifetime movie' as a pejorative term, I consider this high praise. But don’t overlook one salient tendency in this age-old tale: The beautiful girl may get the guy, but the smart girl gets the last word. This may make her the most unreliable narrator of all.