Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: Imaginary Girls

Imaginary Girls
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Published: June 14, 2012
Paperback, 348 pages
4 Gold Stars

(summary from Goodreads)

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.

This book gave me the chills from beginning to end. The opening chapter promises mystery, lush settings, and possibly even murder. Even the cover haunts me as I still try to get this story out of my mind. It begs not to leave, it promises to stay with me in the dark, under the water, in the woods, and in my dreams. Ruby and Chloe are characters I've never encountered before and don't think I ever will again. There's nobody like them out there, no one with quite the same bond that these sisters share, a bond that threatens to suck me in with them and never let go.

Ruby is the kind of girl everyone loves. She rules the small town her and her sister, Chloe, have grown up in. Ruby raised Chloe and would do anything for her. Chloe is cool by association, invited to parties because her sister will be there, and looked at by boys because she has the long almost black hair like her sister. When Ruby tells her friends that Chloe can swim across the town reservoir one night, a blackened pool of water that seems to have no end and holds the mystery of the sunken town of Olive, Chloe jumps in without hesitation, knowing her sister will take care of her. When her swim finds her in the middle of the reservoir looking at a dead body in a rowboat, Chloe's life is suddenly ripped apart. She is sent to live with her dad, separated from Ruby. The chapters she spends there are the saddest in the book. It's clear Chloe loves Ruby and doesn't feel like the same person without her. Two years later, Chloe returns to town and things  are certainly not what they seem. Suddenly Chloe is deep in a world she's never known, keeping secrets from Ruby and feeling a strange pull to the town of Olive. Only Ruby knows the truth and Chloe is determined to seek it out.

This small town is just as much a character as Ruby or Chloe. The way that everything seems to revolve around Ruby is enough to send a shiver up my spine. And Olive, the sunken town under the reservoir, is even more haunting. Ruby tells stories of the people who still live down there, gils instead of lungs, and hoping for people to go swimming so they can pull them under. At any mention of Olive, I gripped the pages tighter, knowing there was no way for me to be prepared for what could happen next. Every setting stood out: The house that Ruby and Chloe live in, unfinished and strategically placed by the reservoir. The old cemetery where the people of Olive are buried, and the reservoir itself, black and endless with more secrets than you can count. 

Chloe is the perfect narrator for a tale like this. She is unreliable, a girl obsessed with her sister and willing to do whatever it takes to be with her. And Ruby, a mysterious girl full of secrets and magic, even more unreliable than Chloe. Both girls leave haunting words on every page. They have a relationship unlike anything I've ever read, almost obsessive, but full of love. They only know each other, they know there is no one else that can be counted on, and they go through life needing each other. The further into the book I got, the less I knew about these two girls. Shrouded in mysteries, the girls are just as obscure of the town of Olive; it was hard to know if they actually really existed. Most of the time, I wasn't sure if they were real. I wasn't sure if any of the story was real or if it was all in Chloe's head. That's the beauty of this book. It tightroped along the line of reality and fantasy just enough to make me question everything I read. Who existed and who was just in Chloe's head? Was the town of Olive real? Is it still under the water just like Ruby says it is? None of these questions are answered, like I knew they wouldn't be. The story went in a direction that I couldn't have imagined, but in the end made perfect sense. 

The mysterious and haunting nature of this book  keeps me thinking about it days after finishing it. It's the kind of book I could read four times and still not have answers to my burning questions. Just like the girls in this book, this book is unreal and chilling, leaving me breathless and scared to go near dark waters at night. Suma is a brilliant writer, someone who can make me believe everything she wrote even though I was confused and scared most of the time. I hope the people of Olive enjoy this review and stay away from me when I'm swimming.

“The story you choose to tell isn't always the story you believe.” 

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