Monday, September 7, 2015

Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Title: Imaginary Girls
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Published Date: 14 June 2011
Buy: Amazon | The Book Depository | Dymocks Australia

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.
(summary from Goodreads)

Imaginary Girls is a haunting and mysterious story, but suffers from unlikable characters.

I adore Suma's writing. It's so lyrical and has a whimsical quality to it that awes me. It's truly beautiful. There's a supernatural element to Imaginary Girls that surprised me, as my only knowledge of the book was what the summary stated, and so I'd mostly expected a contemporary read. I should've known better, considering my prior experience of Suma's writing. It was definitely a good surprise though because it was this facet of the story that most enticed me to keep reading. The story of Imaginary Girls, one of weird powers, a ghostly town existing under water, and of a kind of reincarnation, is bother captivating and creepy. Suma's world building is brilliant, with just the right amount of disturbing to keep you on the edge of your seat. To begin, Imaginary Girls was really slow paced. It's all Ruby said, Ruby does, Ruby this, Ruby that, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, though the novel is told from Chloe's point of view. Honestly, it was utterly frustrating. But as the story continues and the unknown qualities garner more focus, there was no putting this book down. The tension of needing to know what's going to happen flares. Especially as there's the question of whether any of the bizarre occurrences are actually real. Suma leaves it entirely to your belief and this I can't help but love.

The downfall of Imaginary Girls though is Ruby and Chloe. I hated these characters. Ruby is manipulative and possessive, selfish in a frightening way, and the mysterious power she has that allows her to hold sway over the townspeople - and Chloe - is terrifying. There was a fair amount of fuss made over the bond between Ruby and Chloe, but I wasn't feeling it. It only annoyed me to no end. Chloe is but another tool in Ruby's arsenal, another mindless toy she controls. Though the MC of Imaginary Girls, though the narration is entirely hers, Chloe has no individual thoughts. Without Ruby she is lost and nothing, and it kind of sickened me. I assume this is the intended effect, but for me it just negatively impacted my enjoyment of Imaginary Girls. Truly, it was lucky some of the supernatural strangeness came into play early enough because I was so very close to calling this book a DNF over Ruby and Chloe. It doesn't help that I found no other characters particularly endearing either. Any pity I held for London was lost when her true personality shone through and where I could almost like Pete, his obsession with Ruby overshadowed it quickly. Owen, Jonah and Sparrow are non-entities, really. I actually had to go back and look up their names! Imaginary Girls is the Ruby Show, all the time. And I have no love for Ruby.

This is a hard one for me to rate. On the one hand, the story is so memorably twisted and Suma's writing perfect that it deserves more. But then I have such a low opinion of her characters that all of the good was almost ruined for me. So I'm basically fence sitting and rating it in the middle.



  1. It's tough when you love writing and story, but you hate the characters. Great review!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

    1. It really, really is. :-( Thanks so much, Kate.

  2. Characters are what can make or break a book for me too.. Regardless if it was the intend behavior of them, because I just can't enjoy them.. :( Great review ! :)

    Donita @ My Random Book thoughts

    1. That's exactly it, Donita. Doesn't matter how good the story is, if I hate the characters I just can't enjoy it. :-( Thanks!