Saturday, July 9, 2011
Confusing but Intriguing
This is a hard review to write, because I can honestly say I am not sure how I feel about this book. In fact, I am not entirely sure I know what happened in this book. I read it. I paid close attention. I even reread parts. I am still not completely sure I understood it all. Let's see if I can explain it semi-coherently... Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma...
Chloe is enthralled by her big sister, Ruby. In fact everyone is. "Enthralled" isn't even the word; bewitched might be more appropriate. She doesn't pay attention to any traffic signs or lights, but all other traffic just stops and lets her go. She shows up to work when she wants to, leaves when she's ready, and gives away stuff, but she never loses her job. At any given time, she has a legion of love sick boys following her around doing her bidding. Ruby is quite a force in their small upstate New York town by the NYC reservoir. But no one can quite explain why. Ruby practically raised Chloe since their mother spent most of her time in the local pub, but their relationship is more than that. It's indescribable.
One night everyone is at the reservoir swimming (illegally) and Ruby convinces Chloe to swim across. Chloe does, as she always does what Ruby says she can, but something goes wrong. The reservoir has covered a number of towns when it was flooded, and Ruby always says there are still people living down there, beneath the surface, in the water logged streets of Olive. When Chloe gets into the middle of the reservoir, she feels something strange, possibly she is tired, but miraculously a boat appears. She grabs the boat to catch her breath and realizes she isn't along- a classmate named London is inside the boat, dead. After the commotion of being dragged out of the water, speaking to the cops, and it being announced London had ODed, Chloe is dragged out of town to live with her father in Pennsylvania (Ruby has a different father). After two years, Ruby comes to get Chloe and convinces her to come back to NY.
When Chloe arrives, she can sense something strange about the town. First, London is alive, but not fully there. She isn't a ghost, but she seems strange, not to mention she should be dead. Ruby makes Chloe promise she won't leave the town, but Chloe starts to feel the need to do the opposite of what Ruby says. When Ruby tells her to stay away from Owen, Chloe wants him more. She gets in a car with London and a bunch of boys and heads out of town for a party. When they get further from town, everyone's opinion of Ruby goes from awestruck to scathing. Then, just as they cross the line, London disappears. In fact, as people get farther from Ruby, her influence seems to fade. Chloe even goes to the reservoir, which Ruby forbade her to do. Curious, she sticks her toe in the water, and she realizes something is wrong. It is then that Chloe truly begins to realize the oddness surrounding Ruby and her control over people and places. But one thing is for sure... Ruby would die for Chloe... or kill for her.
This strange novel is written in beautiful poetic language. The descriptions of Ruby seem like something out of a fantasy, but then again, they kind of are. They can get a little tedious at times, but that is supposed to be the point- in Ruby's presence, she is always the center of attention. I think this language will lose most young readers, though. In fact, it almost lost me. I got a little tired of reading about some mysterious thing that I had no idea what it was. I spent a few hundred pages wondering what the heck was going on, and only stuck with it because I had to know. Of course, by the time I got to the end, I still didn't really understand what had happened. I did, in a way, but I also didn't.
I can visualize the kind of kid this book would be good for- that very abstract student who enjoys fantasy but is a little romantic. This is quite a narrow group of students (I can think of one or two), so this might not be a book you invest in for a library. Or, you might want to because it is perfect for that very specific type of student. Unfortunately, I think it will lose most other students. I know it lost me on many occasions. The author is at Oblong in August, so I am interested to meet her and hear her talk about the book. Maybe that will clarify some things for me. But one thing is for sure- from the cover to the relationship between Ruby and Chloe, this is one seriously haunting book.