The Burning Girl Summary & Study Guide

Messud, Claire
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The Burning Girl Summary & Study Guide Description

The Burning Girl Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Burning Girl by Messud, Claire.

The following version of the book was used to create this study guide: Messud, Claire. The Burning Girl. W.W. Norton & Company, 2017. First Edition.

The narrator, Julia, begins her story in the present, saying that it has been two years since the Burnes family left Royston, Massachusetts, but she still misses her friend Cassie. Julia then shifts into the past tense to begin the narrative.

Julia and Cassie had been friends forever, and they considered themselves to be "secret sisters.” Julia lived in an old Victorian house with her mother and her father. Cassie lived in a small house by the highway with her single mother, Bev. Cassie's father had died when she was a baby, but she believed he acted as her guardian angel.

The summer before 7th grade, Cassie was attacked by a Pitbull at the animal shelter where the girls worked. Julia and her mother took Cassie to the hospital, where she was attended by Dr. Anders Shute.

The girls began taking walks to the local quarry. Cassie wanted to find the abandoned Bonnybrook asylum that lay in the woods around the quarry, and one day they discovered the asylum and broke in. Julia was nervous being there at first, but Cassie made her see it as a place that could belong to only them. They continued going to the asylum for the next few days.

Julia and Cassie began the 7th grade, and Julia had a hard time making the adjustment to middle school. She and Cassie were in different classes, and Cassie had begun hanging out with the "troublemakers.” She replaced Julia with Delia Vosul, a new girl who wore lots of lip gloss and push up bras. Cassie also began dating Peter Oundle, the boy that Julia had always had a crush on. The girls hardly spent time together anymore.

Cassie's mom, Bev, invited Julia and her parents to come to the Burneses' house to meet someone special. Bev introduced them to her new boyfriend, Dr. Anders Shute. Julia and Cassie snuck into the kitchen, where Cassie told Julia that she thought Dr. Shute was following her, and that he found her mom on purpose. She said that his presence made her uncomfortable.

Julia joined the speech team at school, and made new friends. Cassie broke up with Peter Oundle after he told her to tell Bev how much she disliked Anders Shute, but she refused to do it because she did not want to take away Bev's happiness. When Cassie told Julia about all the harsh new rules Dr. Shute had set for her, Julia offered up her house for Cassie to stay at. Cassie declined in a way that made Julia realize Cassie thought she was better than Julia, which made her start to hate Cassie.

Julia and Peter Oundle became close friends. Cassie was beginning to act out: going to parties, drinking a lot, flirting with different guys. Throughout the 8th grade, Cassie and Delia remained friends. Cassie's home life was more troubled than ever, which Julia learned when she heard how a neighbor had found Cassie walking on the side of the highway at night.

The girls began 9th grade at the high school. Cassie came over to Julia's house twice after school, but they did not have any meaningful interactions. Julia refused to be the one who made the first move in terms of rebuilding their friendship.

Cassie went missing in the middle of April. When she returned she told Peter, who told Julia, that her home life had been getting worse. Cassie had been searching for her father online, and had found a man she thought could be him in Bangor, Maine. She researched him and his family, and then ran away to Bangor to meet him. When she finally went to his house he said that he did not know her, although Cassie believed that he was lying. She went back to Royston, and to Peter's house. The next day Cassie went back to her own house and confronted her mother. She accused her of lying about her father's death, and of never loving her enough. Cassie then ran off.

Julia made Peter search the quarry with her, but they found no trace of Cassie. That night, Julia had a dream in which Cassie put on a feathered cloak that was supposed to make her fly, but that burned her instead. She knew she had to find Cassie before the cloak killed her, and realized that the dream took place in the asylum. She called the quarry caretaker, Rudy, to drive her out there to look for Cassie, and they found her in an upper room where she used to play with Julia. Cassie had tried to kill herself, and was semi-conscious with a jug of vodka and bottles of pills scattered around her. Rudy called the paramedics, who told Julia that she saved Cassie's life. When Cassie was carried past Julia, however, she mouthed "Fuck you, traitor" at her.

Cassie and Bev moved out of Royston the summer after Cassie's suicide attempt. Julia had wanted to see her before they left, but Bev would not allow it. Anders Shute remained behind in the Burneses' old house for a year until he sells it. Julia and Peter dated for a few months. Julia will be a high school senior soon, and she tells her parents that she wants to study acting in college.

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