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Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Chloe’s older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can’t be captured or caged. When a night with Ruby’s friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the dead body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby.
But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.
With palpable drama and delicious craft, Nova Ren Suma bursts onto the YA scene with the story that everyone will be talking about.
I cannot remember the last time I was so reluctant to evaluate my feelings on a single novel.
Before I read Imaginary Girls, everyone and, it would seem, their mother already had, and I as the raging review-reading monkey that I am wound up developing some pretty vague but overwhelming positive impressions of this book. Review after review lauded it as being “literary,” “haunting,” “eerie,” “disturbing,” “surreal,” “magical,” “compelling,” “imaginative,” “unlike anything else,” etc., etc (mostly all notions I didn’t glean from it at all). So, although I had not an inkling as to the plot aside from some ambiguous references to a reservoir, a town called Olive that sat at the bottom of the reservoir and a pair of sisters who had some kind of remarkable bond between them that lived in the town outskirting the reservoir, I was by and large assured I’d pretty much fall in love with this incredibly devastating work of art.
Now, I’m not saying it was horrible. I do have my reservations about parading it around and calling the writing a thing to want to emulate or the story a thing to marry or the execution a thing to behold, though. And I’m fairly certain I “got it” (or at least most of it), so I’m gonna knock that explanation out of contention as to why I didn’t exactly run with the pack opinion on this one.
The frustrating thing is that I don’t even know how to express my… well, frustration with it. The most I can come up with is that my every impression of this book just didn’t do it for me.
The font–it’s the font I always associate with Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ Keisha’ra series, and that’s no one’s fault, but it did leave the subconscious imprint of incongruity on my psyche as I read. Strike 1 (although, to its credit, inconsequential–I grew used to it quickly enough).
The writing–…*sigh* I can’t understand readers’ reactions of Golly, this is amazeballs writing! I wanna write like this! It’s not horrid, true, but it’s not exactly what I’d call literary or even above-and-beyond. Writing like this, to my standard, is laudable but far from outstanding. I will say, however, that it’s nothing to scoff at. It’s as if, at times, Suma’s words were just at the very cusp of reaching heightened levels of greatness before pulling back and getting distracted by the normalcy of typical non-crappy writing. Whenever a particularly elegant, or eloquent, scene or moment arose in terms of writing, my heart got bigger, hoping for the best, thinking, “This is great; I bet it’s gonna get better. It’s gonna get there! It’s about to get really awesome…!”, and then all the beauty drained out of the prose, leaving me with a vicarious sense of unfulfilled accomplishment. I wanted to be wowed by Suma’s writing, as many a review has promised. I wanted it to earn its place on a pedestal. It just never quite made the mark. Not that its efforts (in its own right, apparently effortless) went unnoticed by me.
The characters–My feelings on all the characters can, probably, be summed up by one sentiment: SPOILER »
WHY DIDN’T OWEN DIE? WHY?? It just cemented the ambivalence of character definition in each and every person. What does it say about Ruby, who had’t done a single nice thing the whole book? What does it say about Chloe, who had every reason to want no other outcome? What does it say about Pete, who only minutes ago had been badmouthing this person? What does it say about London, who was never given any particular role than to be manipulated in the first place? And the whole town, the whole circle of friends, who abandoned everyone involved at first glance and then re-included select individuals at a later date? I just… never felt like anyone was any single person, not even Ruby, who actually seemed to me several different people at once ensconced in a single sundress. I didn’t even remember Chloe’s name until well after I’d reached the halfway point in the book. In fact, most of that time, and even on a few occasions afterward, I mixed up Chloe talking about Ruby with Ruby talking about herself–forgetting not only the narrator’s name but her entire existence. And that’s never a good sign in a first-person narrative, when you forget who’s narrating in a book with only one narrator.
And everything in between kind of fell apart for me as well. The crux of the whole story took ten years to culminate, and it didn’t even do so at an understandable pace. Not to mention, it felt to me as though the story started off in the wrong place because the progression of the first few chapters went too quickly, too unbelievably, to have the proper effect on me as a reader seeking attachment to characters, their motives and their thoughts. And, to top it all off, I could never place my finger on what, exactly, the story was about, even in the climax, because the plot/progression vacillated too singlemindedly between Chloe herself (who–gah, no identity), Ruby (and her boyfriends) (and “secrets”), London (sporadically) and the town of Olive/the legend surrounding it/the reservoir/the mystery surrounding it.
All in all, I guess even though I got it and I understood everything, I just never knew what to make of it.
And besides, what’s the big deal about the cover and how it’s only sensible if you finish the book all the way through? Yeah, it’s kinda totally get-worthy once you’ve finished the book, but it’s not like, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone.” It’s pretty much the least literal thing about this book. Relevant, yes; accurate, not by a long shot. Though it is stunning.