Book Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

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Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Released June 14, 2011.

Chloe knows that she can depend on her older sister Ruby.  Ruby is a girl who has always seemed to be more alive, more beautiful and more intense than anyone else.  She has series of boyfriends, some of whom never go away, lingering for more attention from Ruby.  Chloe knows that Ruby would do anything for her and that she will always live with Ruby.  But that all changes one night at the reservoir when Ruby asks Chloe to swim across the water and return with a trophy from a long-sunken town below the surface.  Chloe trusts Ruby implicitly, knowing the Ruby would never let anything happen to her.  So she starts across, but she doesn’t find the other side of the reservoir, instead she discovers the body of a dead girl floating in a boat.  Now Chloe is sent away to live with her father.  But Ruby will not allow them to be separated from one another and will do anything to get her sister back.  Anything.

This is horror fiction that is literary at the same time.  It takes its time slowly becoming more and more eerie and strange as the reader continues.   The journey here is a large part of the book, as layers are peeled away, readers begin to understand more and more about the sisters, about Ruby, and about the dead girl, London.  It is a book that gives readers the space to think, to untangle the knot, to solve the puzzle.  It is a joy to read.

The prose is beautiful even at its more horrific and strange.  In the early pages there is this section from page 34 that epitomizes the beauty of the language:

It felt like we could have made it to the station in seconds, flown there and back with a canister of gasoline, our eyelashes glistening with frost, our bones weightless from cold.

And you can see within that passage that even the most mundane, running out of gas, can be made sinister yet mesmerizing.

Chloe is a character who struggles with living in her sister’s shadow even as she basks in the attention that it brings her from others and from Ruby.  Their relationship is strange, but Chloe continues to see it as normal.  Readers must wrest their thoughts free from Chloe’s to begin to understand what is happening.  The world the two sisters inhabit is beautiful, troubling and irresistible.

The design of the book is very effective.  From the cover that is beautiful but haunting to the way the chapter titles are done.  Each chapter title is pulled from the first few words of the chapter, giving the book an echo and each title even more strange weight.

Highly recommended, this is a phenomenal horror novel filled with gorgeous writing and a strong paranormal feel.  Ideal for teens who think they have read it all.  This is a book full of surprises and twists that will have them regretting reading it after dark.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Penguin Young Readers Group.

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