Backlist Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Genre: young-adult, general fiction, supernatural fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 348 (hardcover edition)
Published: June 2011
Source: bought
Rating: 4/5

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.

Imaginary Girls is not at all what I expected, in terms of story and plot. It is exactly what I wanted in regards to the beautiful, imagery-laden prose. Nova Ren Suma's talent at storytelling shines through her imaginative and interesting story, but doesn't entirely make up for all the missing details and information. Mostly, though, what this book is, is weird. Not in a bad "stay far far away from it" way, but in a starkly unique and thoroughly creepy way. Creepy in tone, creepy in setting, creepy in the skewed way Chloe views the world, this is one of the more evocative books I've read in terms of mood, feeling and atmosphere. There are a few spoilers ahead, so don't skim if you don't want to spoil yourself.

Being totally, 100% honest, Imaginary Girls' plot warranted only about one star out of five; the other three that I've given it here are because I loved very much just how that story was written. If I had more solid footing on just what happened that first night at the reservoir, [SPOILERS next (for instance, just how and when did Ruby switch the two girls? How did she know what to do to save her sister? Was Ruby always in "contact" with the people from Olive, thus proving her stories about them/the town to Chloe were real? How did she "trick" them into believing London was Chloe? For that matter, who is/are "them"?!) end of SPOILERS], if Chloe's limited knowledge of just what happens with Ruby/London/Olive was just a bit expanded in any kind of meaningful way, I wouldn't've felt that disappointed by the end of the novel. All in all, when Imaginary Girls succeeds, it's on the strength of Suma's imaginative and unsettlingly creepy writing, but when it falls short, it does so in other categories like characterization, plot, and particularly in the infancy of the novel: pacing. That's not to say that this is ever a boring novel; no, quite the opposite. Even when there is little to nothing going on in Chloe's life or in her head, Suma keeps it far from boring with her inventive and individual twist with words. 

“There was something to be said for the bodiless feeling that came after the cold. Something I would always remember. When you forget how bad it hurts, you feel so free.”
“...I sat there in the boat under her stars and her moon gated on all sides by the mountains watching the last bits of her breath float up and away.”

This is a mixed bag: a realistic young-adult novel with a fantastical twist. A beautifully written and told tale, Imaginary Girls gets more right than it does wrong. And though I felt vaguely and sadly unsatisfied with how things ended, this is an author that can write, and one I will keep a look out for future work in the coming years.

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