Rose Lovell doesn’t expect much from the small seaside town of Leonora. Then again, the town doesn’t expect much from her either. Rose has seen towns like this before. She’ll likely see even more when her father’s wanderlust kicks in and they drive off in their caravan again.
In all the towns, in all the schools, Rose has never seen anyone quite like Pearl Kelly. Pearl who thinks everyone is nice. Pearl who writes in highlighter and dreams of Russia. Vivacious, popular Pearl who organizes the high school float for the annual Harvest Festival Parade.
Rose never could have guessed in those first moments that she and Pearl would become friends. She couldn’t have known that Pearl would convince Rose–a lonely hailstorm next to Pearl’s sunshine–to make a dress for the Harvest Parade.
Edie Baker, the supposed town witch, is known for her dressmaking as much as her strange, ramshackle house. Together she and Rose piece together a dress of midnight blue and magic as Edie reveals pieces of her own past to Rose while they bend over the stitches together.
By the time the parade draws near they will have created an unforgettable dress. A dress of mystery and beauty, but also one that will become woven into the fabric of a tragedy that will forever mark the town of Leonora and leave both girls changed in The Midnight Dress (2013) by Karen Foxlee.
The Midnight Dress is a haunting blend of mystery and beauty as the events leading to the Harvest Festival and the aftermath of that night unfold simultaneously. Foxlee expertly knits the two stories together in chapters titled for different stitches.
Lyrical dialogue and poetic descriptions lend a timeless air to this story of an unforgettable friendship between two girls who are lonely and yearning for very different things in a small Australian town in 1987.* Moments from the near and distant past blend seamlessly as Edie’s own story is revealed over the sewing of the dress.
There is something half-wild about the characters in The Midnight Dress. That same sense of dangerous allure and an underlying dignity comes through in Foxlee’s writing as she describes the sometimes brutal town politics and the wonders found in the rain forest bordering the town.
The Midnight Dress is a beautiful story of the many forms love can take and the enduring power of positive thoughts. But at the same time it examines unspeakable loss and the fact that tragedies never leave people unmarred–actions, however small or well-meant, have consequences. It’s hard to call this book a happy one, or even an optimistic one. Many of the characters here are broken; many of them will remain that way for a very long while. At the same time, however, this story offers moments of beauty with deceptively ornate and electric writing.
Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year and highly recommended. Just make sure you have a happy book lined up for right after.
*The time period doesn’t matter ostensibly because this book is largely timeless. I just felt very clever for figuring out the year and wanted to share it.
Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tamar by Mal Peet, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel