Review Blog

Nov 21 2018

Girls of paper and fire by Natasha Ngan

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Hodder and Stoughton, 2018. ISBN 9781473692190
(Age: senior secondary) Highly recommended. Not suitable for young readers. Contains scenes of violence and sexual assault (not described but heavily implied). Themes: YA, fantasy, LGBT+.
Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. Ten years ago, her mother was snatched by the royal guards, and her fate remains unknown. Now, the guards are back and this time it's Lei they're after - the girl with the golden eyes, whose rumoured beauty has piqued the king's interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit a king's consort. There, Lei does the unthinkable - she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world's entire way of life and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she's willing to go for justice and revenge.
Girls of Paper and Fire is an intriguing analysis of significant societal issues including racism, abuse, and consent, with Ngan's writing opening many pathways for discussion. The characters come from various Asian backgrounds and are diverse and complex, a brilliant example of well-rounded representation. Their unique, masterfully crafted backstories and motives allow the reader to connect and identify with the struggles of both main and minor characters. Lei's characterisation and continued defiance of the oppressive ruling system emphasised the importance of continuously opposing injustice and never giving in to despair. Ngan's description of the way Lei fell in love was beautifully written and philosophical, revealing the great lengths people will go to for people they care about. While the story is confronting, it critiques and challenges these issues and starts much-needed discussions. Ngan writes with elegance and poise, handling these serious topics with grace.
Despite the story's dark nature, it conveys positive messages for people who have experienced traumas similar to those of the paper girls, detailing the value of healthy relationships, the power of female strength, and reminds the audience of humanity's ability to find hope in darkness, to not just survive, but to live through struggles.
This novel was an engrossing read which, while dark, aims to lift its readers and remind them of their own power and ability to create change.
Stephanie Lam

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