Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review of YA novel: Imaginary Girls (by Nova Ren Suma)

There are some books - maybe far too few - that you finish, but they stay with you.  You can't stop thinking about the book.  It affected you.  It did its job.  Sometimes, I don't realize how invested I was in the book until I can't get it out of my head.  Then, I know.  The author did his/her job beautifully.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma is one of those books. As I read it, I couldn't put it down.  I finished it in a day.  Even as I was at times frustrated with the main character, I kept on reading and long after completing it, I continue to think about it.  Did I like it?  Didn't I?  I think the answer to that is yes and no, but the fact that I'm STILL asking myself that question says a ton about my reading experience.  Sometimes, there is no simple answer.

This YA novel, geared towards older teens, is about the deep, possessive and frankly, creepy relationship between two sisters, Chloe and Ruby.  Growing up with an alcoholic mother, Chloe depended heavily on her older, charismatic sister Ruby to raise her.  Ruby took the responsibility very seriously and came to love Chloe with an intensity closer to that of mother and child, rather than that of a sister.

Set in a small New York town, nestled next to a lake with a haunted past, the book is more of a ghost or horror story than contemporary fiction.  One night, while swimming across the lake to prove herself to the other teenagers in town - and because Ruby believes she can do it - Chloe comes upon a drifting boat in which lays the dead body of a classmate.  Life as Chloe and Ruby know it is never the same.

With the image of the dead girl branded in her mind, Chloe leaves town to live with their father while Ruby works to bring her home.  She will do anything for them to be together again, because there is no one Ruby cares about more than her sister.

Ruby is a magnetic, enigmatic girl - irresistible to the townspeople and especially her sister.  She entrances people with her smile and her beauty.  She has a power over people and is chillingly careless with it.  Individuals do not matter to Ruby, only Chloe and herself matter.  She is as ruthless as she is loving.  As a reader, I hated her and I loved her.  I couldn't get enough of her.  I, too, fell under her spell.  The writing is that good.  

While Chloe is the main character - and often makes decisions you want to shake her for, it is Ruby who drives the storyline.  It is Ruby who will captivate you.

This haunting, exquisitely-written novel leaves you with questions: What would you do for the person you love?  How far would you go?  How much would you give up?

Is there such a thing as loving someone too much?

It is a creepy, hypnotic read.  You may not "like" it in the traditional sense, but you will never forget it.

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