... the idea that what lies behind us, in newspapers, and photographs, textbooks and personal memories, is not just fiction. It is, instead, a fluid and magical text, a spellbook from which our futures are conjured. Burning Girls plays out this thesis over the course of thirteen stories that feel almost excavated, hauled out from deep and sometimes quite dark places. The result is a diverse haul of gems that draw from everything from real-world history to personal memory, eldritch fairy tales to eerie modern metaphors. Like all things dug out from darkness, there is ugliness aplenty to be found here—but there is incredible beauty too, found in works both raw and refined ... The real diamonds in the collection appear when Schanoes takes history-as-fairytale almost literally, digging her hands into painful public history and kneading out fantasies that feel breathtakingly real. The inherited trauma of Jewish history proves to be particularly fertile territory ... Burning Girls maintains an engagingly toothy weirdness throughout its length that always lures the reader in to some deeper reckoning ... The fiery coal at its center might be an agonizing loss, a terminal condition, mental illness, or a bad decision. But whatever it is, Schanoes is always intent on revealing the ugly and utterly magnetic thing that set her girls (and sometimes boys) on fire. The resulting flames, the words that lick their way off the page, are always painful ... And sometimes they are destructive and murderous, almost akin to a physical and psychological autopsy—indelible, but awash in a single color.
Schanoes wields her razor-sharp craft like a scalpel, carving every one of these pieces into something distinct and idiosyncratic and undeniably powerful. Intellectually challenging and emotionally intense, it’s a collection packed tight with highlights ... There’s a lot to dig about this book, but one of the most immediately striking things one notices upon finishing is the fact that the stories are somehow wide-ranging AND clearly related. They each operate under their own individual parameters while also sharing DNA. Like any family, there are outliers that nevertheless share similarities. Burning Girls and Other Stories also has that quality that marks the best short fiction collections—a compulsive readability. Each story is so provocative and so satisfyingly concluded that the reader almost can’t help turning the page and diving into the next.
... while there is an occasional tendency to embed snippets of historical lectures as a kind of ballast for her more visceral nightmares...it never mitigates the passion and anger that is the real engine of her fiction ... Schanoes’s signature talent lies in repositioning folk and fairytale motifs in historical contexts ... While most of Schanoes’s fiction boldly experiments with combined storytelling modes, a few are more playfully absurdist ... As dark and unsettling as some of her subjects may be, Schanoes consistently reminds us of the joy of finding, making, unfolding, and blending stories, of how narratives of history and narratives of fantasy reflect and illuminate each other. At her best, which is on display more often than not in Burning Girls and Other Stories, it’s a joy that’s thoroughly contagious, and a welcome debut.