Charles 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