The Blue Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Blue Girl by Charles de LintCharles de Lint is one of my favorite authors although my constantly writing Derek de Lint instead of Charles de Lint might lead you to think otherwise. He has been one of my top authors for a few years already based solely on the awesomeness that is The Blue Girl (2006).

I want to read everything he’s written, no easy task because he’s written a lot, but so far have only polished off two books from his oeuvre (this one and Little (Grrl) Lost). Both, coincidentally, have been exceptional enough that they rate as Chick Lit Wednesday books.

Like many of De Lint’s books, this novel is set in Newford and firmly grounded in the urban fantasy genre with which he is so often associated. The story opens with the heading “Now” as Imogen describes a nightly ritual, perhaps dream or perhaps reality, that occurs in her bedroom:

It starts with this faint sound that pulls me out of sleep: a sort of calliope music played on an ensemble of toy instruments. You know, as though there’s a raggedy orchestra playing quietly in some hidden corner of my bedroom, like the echo of a Tom Waits song heard through the walls from the apartment next door. Rinky-dink piano, tinny horns and kazoos, miniature guitars with plastic strings, weird percussion.

It ends with the appearance of creepy characters parading out of Imogen’s closet, “patchwork creatures made out of words and rags and twigs, of bits of wool and fur, skin and bone”, followed by Pell-mell the imaginary friend Imogen gave up on years ago now made scary by the intevening years. When Pelly reaches for Imogen’s comforter saying, “I’ve missed you sideways,” is it something sinister or an endearment? Only time will tell.

In order to explain how Imogen’s now got so weird, De Lint works backward looking at Imogen’s past. Specifically, the next section of the book is called “Then” and begins right after Imogen moves to Newford with her mother and Jared, her brother. (The book alternates between “Now” and “Then” segments of varying length until the two points in time converge about a third of the way in.)

I could actually spend even more time talking about the prose and structure of this novel, because both are rich with detail. But, on the other hand, I feel like if I keep doing that, I’ll just end up quoting the whole book in this review. It’s that amazing.

So instead of getting into a lot of the minute details, here’s some basic information on the three characters who share narration of the book (that’s right, three first-person narrators, crazy!)

As astute readers may have guessed, Imogen is the star of the novel and the “blue girl” mentioned in the title. The fantastic cover art by Cliff Nielsen, incidentally, is exactly how I would have imagined Imogen myself. Anyway, before moving to Newford, Imogen was not the quirky character readers will come to know and love. She has a past that she’s trying to leave behind, except for the being tough part–that stays. Imogen, in a Stargirl-esque manner, likes to reinvent herself. As part of her reinvention, Imogen decides she needs a new friend who turns out to be Maxine, whether she likes it or not. Maxine is everything Imogen is not–geeky, bookish, and meek–she is also everything Imogen needs in a friend (and vice versa).

Add to the equation: Adrian, a lonely ghost who spends his time avoiding angels; the aforementioned imaginary friend, and a group of nasty fairies and you have all the makings of a plot rife with action and suspense.

At the same time, De Lint’s text here is rich. Sometimes “rich” is a euphemism for “dense” but not in this case. The prose is evocative, creating not only a strong sense of place within the story but also helping readers to actually know each of the characters. The writing never seems excessively long, rather De Lint manages to make each bit of information or description feel vital to the story as a whole–the writing is that tight. Aside from that the plot, which admirably manages a broad scope of time, is excellent from the first sentence to the last.

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Lily’s Ghosts by Laura Ruby, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Little (Grrl) Lost: A (reactionary) Chick Lit Wednesday review

Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles de LintLittle (Grrl) Lost (2007) is Charles De Lint‘s latest novel set in the fictitious city of Newford, the setting for much of De Lint’s work that helped to establish the urban fantasy genre. The Blue Girl from 2006 is another novel set in Newford (Cliff note plot to that book: Punky teen Imogen wants to start fresh, and mistake-free, when her family moves to Newford. She makes friends with Maxine, straight-laced girl with an overprotective mother. As time passes the girls observe strange happenings at their school and wind up matching wits with some very mean fairies among other things.)

The story in Little (Grrl) Lost is refreshingly straightforward for a fantasy: Fourteen-year-old T.J. is furious when her family has to leave their farm and move to Newford. To makes matter worse, T.J. has to leave behind her horse, Red, and her best friend. T.J. has a hard time adjusting to city life and making new friends–until she meets Elizabeth: a punky teenager who lives with her family in the walls of T.J.’s house. Elizabeth is a Little by name. And literally, standing only six inches tall.

As time passes, the girls form an unlikely friendship and begin an even more surprising adventure as they navigate their way through Little-lore and the urban streets of Newford as T.J. tries to help Elizabeth find her way in the Big world (and maybe find her own place in Newford at the same time).

This novel is extremely complicated stylistically. The story is told in multiple points-of-view with varying narration styles. The amazing thing about this technique is that De Lint still manages to create a seamless narration. He transitions between sections easily without being redundant or leaving the reader at a loss.

In order to better establish the difference between the narrations, De Lint writes T.J.’s section using the traditional third-person, past tense narration (“Jane walked to the store.”) incorporating periods from Geoff or Jaime’s perspective to flesh out certain events. Elizabeth’s sections, on the other hand, are written in the first-person, present tense (“I walk to the store.”), a style that is becoming very common in contemporary novels. (This style is also what makes Elizabeth’s sections of the narration sound more like De Lint’s other YA Newford novel, The Blue Girl.)

Most of the novel is set in the course of two very eventful days for the girls. Nonetheless, the narrative feels expansive. De Lint takes his time, fleshing out the details of T.J. and Elizabeth’s adventures. The story is also fairly light, maintaining a generally upbeat feel.

The important thing to remember about the story is that T.J. is fourteen while Elizabeth is sixteen or seventeen. For this reason, T.J.’s sections of the story read younger than the rest. And rightly so. In addition to creating very individual “voices” for the protagonist’s, De Lint also makes their age difference (and personality differences) clear with the divergent focuses of their narrative segments. That’s really hard to do without making the characters seem exaggerated or flat.

Unfortunately, for prolific authors like De Lint comparisons become inevitable. The most obvious one being between Little (Grrl) Lost and The Blue Girl because the novels are both YA and close together in terms of publications. To be clear, this is not a fair comparison. The Blue Girl is longer which means it has more space to deal with plot issues, and the characters are older which means they are not going to sound like T.J. In fact, beyond being set in Newford, the books have nothing in common.

Little (Grrl) Lost does, however, have the same character types as The Blue Girl: punk “bad” girl (Elizabeth/Imogen) and normal “goody-two-shoes” girl (T.J./Maxine). The difference is that the “good girl” gets a chance to voice her own opinions instead of leaving all of the narration to her best friend. This narrative split does, of course, create a different kind of novel but it is used here to good effect.

Despite its relatively short length, Little (Grrl) Lost is rich with detail, but the narrative is never over the top with description or explanation. Even with its numerous narrative voices, the story is never redundant. Basically, Little (Grrl) Lost gets everything right in terms of writing conventions. De Lint once again brings Newford and his characters (Big or Little) to life in this vivid and magical novel.

Possible Pairings: Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee