Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Source: Somer from A Bird's Eye Review
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.
First of all, a huge thank you to Somer for passing this on to me. I will definitely have to return the favor to her sometime soon :)
I had been practically stalking Somer's blog, waiting for her review to come up, so when it did, I read it eagerly. She said it was strange and some things weren't very developed. So I was nervous about it because I thought I might end up hating it. But something about it always draws me in when I look at it, or even read a sentence of it. I've heard many mixed reviews on this. Some people said that it was absolutely amazing while others thought that it fell flat.
And although I hate to talk about the cover a ton because it isn't the actual book, I have to admit that the cover is largely a part of what made me need to read this. I just think that it's gorgeous, definitely one of the best of the year. Plus, it actually does tie in with the book very well. The colors are beautiful; the girl going to the surface...all of it just takes my breath away (literally).
Chloe was fourteen, and she followed her sister around everywhere. Not in a dumb stupor of admiration, although she did admire Ruby, but what was different was that Ruby actually welcomed Chloe. They were closer than anybody.
Ruby has always been the center of the universe. She's magical, and everybody flocks to be around her. So when Ruby claims that Chloe can swim across the reservoir in the dead of night, who is Chloe to deny her? And after hearing her talk about it, Chloe almost starts to believe that she can. Ruby can make anybody believe anything.
Chloe was scared at first, because Ruby had always told her of an underwater town called Olive. When they were told to evacuate because a dam was going to burst, they refused to leave there home. So when the first waves of water started to descend, they sat glued inside their houses. They are still underwater, waiting.
So Chloe starts to swim. When Chloe was halfway there, she needed to rest, and clutched onto a rickety rowboat for support. It was only after she saw what was in the rowboat that she started to scream.
Inside that rowboat was the body of a girl she knew, London.
When her father learns of what Chloe discovers, he takes her to live with him. Her mother is an alcoholic and isn't fit to take care of her and obviously Ruby isn't either. No matter how much Ruby begged, Chloe was still taken away. They go for months without contact. Chloe didn't hear from Ruby.
A few years later, Ruby shows up at her dad's house out of the blue, claiming that she is going to take Chloe home. Before Chloe knew it, she was going with Ruby back home.
But when she gets back to town, things aren't the same. People are acting strangely, Ruby has all these rules for her, and she sees a girl who wasn't supposed to be there. She was supposed to be dead.
Chloe tries to shift through her memories, seeing if anything is the same and how it could be possible. How does Olive tie into it? What was going on? And what secrets was Ruby keeping from her?
The first thing that I noticed when I started reading this was Ruby. Ruby is such an overwhelming force and an extremely powerful character. She's so used to getting what she wants but not in a conceited way. She came across as mysterious while also making you feel like you knew her.
Her relationship with her sister was extraordinary. She was protective, but was also incredibly influential in her sister's life. She never wanted Chloe to get hurt and that loyalty and unwavering love was one of her strongest traits. Few people can focus on somebody that much, but she was always concerned with her sister's happiness and well-being. She was protective, but would never be overprotective.
Ruby was on the line with everything. She never crossed the line but also seemed to in every way. Some of the things that she did were so wrong that they were right and she almost seemed to work her "magic" through the book and into the reader. She was incredibly persuasive and one of those characters whose sheer self makes them unforgettable.
In a way, Ruby almost reminded me of Bridget from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. She was stubborn and free and didn't think, but just did. Some could say that she left destruction on her path but she forever changed the people that she was around.
Ruby also had this way of making things that were completely untrue right. She would tell outright lies in a way that made you start to think that it made sense, and soon you were nodding along with her telling her that she was right. She made everything right that wasn't, and completely ignored the wrong, if that makes sense. Everything that Ruby didn't like wasn't there. She changed everything, and she had the power to change even more.
One of the things that people didn't like about this book was that it bordered on paranormal while keeping one foot firmly planted in realism. That blurred line made people get frustrated with it, as many books do. It takes a special author to pull that angle off. I had never read a book before that actually did this well before I started this.
A ton of people actually refuse to rate this because they don't know how to describe it. For me, it's not a problem because I don't use a rating system anyways. I agree with them; I honestly have no idea whatsoever how to describe this book.
At times I was frustrated with Ruby. She was used to have everything her own way no matter who it affected. But I admired her loyalty to her sister. She didn't even acknowledge the 'half' sister part of it. She would do anything for Chloe and while sometimes that manifested as overprotectiveness, usually it was just sweet that she would do that for her sister. She always had her sister's best interests.
There's a feeling of nostalgia that comes with this book, and of family. Because although this book is pretty warped at sometimes, it had a nice message. Chloe and Ruby would not stay apart from each other.
Ruby had a widespread effect on the town. Girls wanted to be her, guys wanted to date her, people bent to her every whim. Yet at other points we are told that some in the town hated her. I got confused when Nova said that, but I decided to let it slide. It could probably be explained as that type of love/hate that people have with celebrities. It was like Ruby was the center of the world and they just revolved around her.
To fully explain the effect that Ruby had on the town, you can't really sum it up. Every piece of dialogue, every description, every word fully enhanced the effect. Ruby was magnetic; you couldn't keep from thinking about her. And although this book was focused on Ruby, it wasn't the entire focus of the book.
Chloe starts to have doubts. I liked Chloe; she was sensible, but she adored to her sister to such an extent that she was blind sometimes. Sometimes that made her a bit of an unreliable narrator, but she knew the effect that Ruby had and thought that Ruby was probably using it on her. One of the things that I could personally relate to was the idea of liking that she knew Ruby better than anybody else. Everybody wants to be told that they know somebody better than anybody else.
There was this eerieness of the town of Olive. Olive was this town that was said to have flooded, and submerged completely because they refused to move when a dam burst. They wanted to stay home, and now they would be under the reservoir.
When I imagined the people of Olive, I imagined the mermaids of Harry Potter. It would be just like an underwater town except everybody's skin was tainted green, fins sticking their fingers together and dark hair swaying in the water. I had an eerie image in my head of Olive, and it contributed to the darkness of the story. It was alluring in a way, but incredibly creepy. It was terrifying to imagine them waiting, waiting for somebody to swim across.
The reservoir was a huge part of the story. It was almost heralded as a thing of mystery and hidden depths, which makes sense when you pair it with Olive. There was a sort of symbolism there that I noticed. It was described as beautiful though, and it pulled the story together nicely.
A lot of characters that I have tried to describe in this review have been described as "creepy". Almost all of them seem to have something that's wrong, or off about them. Some people don't notice it, but Chloe seemed to be attuned to how the town has changed without her.
Chloe was sweet. She was obviously matured and intelligent, but she also had this worshipful admiration for her sister that made her oblivious to everything that wasn't what she wanted to hear. Although soon she couldn't ignore it, and as much as she wanted to cling to the scraps of fantasy that told her that her sister was good and that the town was fine, the truth kept intruding on her mind.
That's a feeling that I know well. Knowing that something is wrong but refusing to believe it. It was a familiar feeling and pulled off extremely well.
Her voice itself was by far the best part of the book. It's a very good story, and the author is excellent at storytelling. Chloe's voice seemed to enrich it more and add a distinctive quality to the book that made it unlike anything else.
It was subtly dramatic and striking. Nova Ren Suma knew how to manipulate her audience and just when I was thinking one thing, she would switch something and it would all make sense again, only to be flipped topsy turvy by a new piece of information. It was more of a thoughtful read, with lots of emotion in it that made it highly surreal and enjoyable.
Nova Ren Suma is a seasoned writer and it shows. While some complain of plot holes, I agree that there were a few too many, but there was also this fantastic sense of mystery that was maintained throughout the entire story without wavering in tone or ideas. She has a great way of explaining things, the perfect balance of showing and telling, and a gift for evoking a tone.
I really liked Imaginary Girls. It's eerie realism and stunning voice make it one to watch. I can see myself reading it again, although it's definitely an experience. The characters were developed, the plot was thoughtful, and the description was excellent. If you're ever looking for a different book, give this one a try.
Recommended for anybody who loves: Fracture; Shadowed Summer; surreal books; thoughtful reads; evocative reads; etc,.
Possible book club questions:
What other small towns (in stories) does this one remind you of?How can everything revolve around one person? How did this create tension in the town?How do you think Chloe's dad felt about Ruby taking her away?Do you think that their mom was as bad as she was portrayed or Ruby was acting in spite towards her? Do you think that Chloe will forgive her?Discuss the fine line between careful and overprotective that Ruby was toeing.Do you believe that Chloe knew Ruby more than anybody?