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Someday My Printz Will Come
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Imaginary Conversations

imaginary 198x300 Imaginary ConversationsWe thought we’d have a conversation about Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma. It’s been getting enthusiastic reviews  (four of them starred), including a spoiler-free write up from the esteemed Liz B. And then we had a quick chat about it over the phone and we realized….we suspect that we totally agree, which may or may not make for an interesting blog post. Let’s see what we’ve got!

The plot: It’s about sisters Chloe and Ruby, who live in a small town in upstate New York. When Chloe finds the dead body of classmate London Hayes in the reservoir, she leaves her small town and her magnetic, larger-than-life sister to live with her absentee father. She returns to her town, and to Ruby, two years later to find things largely unchanged. Her mother is still the town drunk. Ruby is still Ruby, capricious and bold. But other things are very different—and only Chloe seems to notice.

Sarah: So…this book! With the beautiful words and rhythmic, repeating imagery! With its ghostly, haunting, haunted girls and slow, creeping plot! And, um, the pages. With words and chapters and all! Maybe we should start with what works for us.

Karyn: Something smart!

Sarah: You just said smart things that I totally agree with! I will probably to continue to agree with all your smart points. So even if the 2012 Printz winner is not a snoozefest, this post will be!

Karyn: More smart, with some extra chocolate sauce smartness!

Sarah: YOU ARE DELICIOUS.

Ok, but really — with a quick note: although we tried to avoid spoilers, we haven’t totally succeeded…

I (Sarah) love that this book is, in part, about how powerful stories are, how stories can eventually define us, and how telling them can change us. And I love the horror elements in the story. I so frequently associate “horror” with gore and slasher movies (confession: that I completely love), that it’s a great reminder that horror can also be delicate and subtle.

Ruby’s weird power is so fascinating and it twists her character up so much that I found her very believable (anyone with actual magical powers would seem strange and other, right?). She was fey-like and amoral, and I enjoyed wondering if she was quite human.  Although I knew I was seeing her through Chloe’s eyes, I guess I fell under Ruby’s spell and never doubted that she was that strong, that beautiful, and that unflinching.

Karyn: For me, this was all about the language. I just thought it was gorgeous on a sentence level structure, and the poetic language (from page 11: “In reality I was a pencil drawing of a photocopy of a Polaroid of my sister”—so evocative and lovely scansion too!) created a dreamlike spell of creepy moody sensations. From a sensory perspective, this is an immensely rich book. And the lost town of Olive under the water and the recurrent attendant images: oh, shudders! The language made the setting feel immensely rich and just a little strange, while also believably upstate-ailing economy-small town claustrophobic.

Sarah: But maybe now we should talk about our Big Buts.

Karyn: Sadly, this was a case where the whole ended up less than the sum of the rather luscious parts. Now, it’s worth noting that I have only read this once, which I wouldn’t stop at as a committee member: the language is rich enough and the book unusual enough that I would give this one a second read if I were looking at it for the award for reals. But time is limited and we have a LOT of books to cover, so I’m going on the first read and a quick second skim.

In short, the magic realism was a little too magic. Or maybe the horror was a little too dreamy. The plot and the words felt mismatched, and my intellectual engagement was intense but my emotional engagement was slim to none. By the end I felt impatient and even a bit bored—all that intense buildup, thanks to language and imagery and the claustrophobic sensory overload is great, but the arc of the story never felt fully fleshed out.

Sarah: Yes, this is where we agree, at least in part. If I had time for another read, I’d be looking for clues about Chloe; I’d be paying extra attention to conversations she has with other people, and I’d be looking for what she gives away not tells about herself. Chloe is so deceptively simple and washed out that it’s easy to believe exactly what she tells us on the first read, to forget that she’s not necessarily to be trusted; on a second read, I’d need to notice what Nova Ren Suma shows us.

Karyn: So in the end, we’re putting this in the also-ran* category, but I will definitely be reading anything else Nova Ren Suma writes, because anyone who can use language so well is going places. I just don’t think she’s 100% there yet.

*Do, however, remember that an also-ran when we’re talking Printz speculation is still a darn good book and well worth a read.

Pub details: Dutton June 2011; reviewed from ARC

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About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. Liz B says:

    “Spoilers!” in my best River Song voice.

    One of the things I adored about this book was that the text supports multiple interpretations about what Ruby is, including that the whole thing is in Chloe’s head. One of the things that frustrates me is that — while I don’t want a “all the tidy answers” book — it’s open ended, with very little to answer “why” once we’ve struggled with “what.” If the author’s failure to give a set answer is viewed as creative and daring, this leans more towards Printz worthy. Personally, though, I think this is why (as Karyn says) it feels mismatched — lovely, lovely, writing. Spot-on development of atmosphere. The sense of horror, of dread, world building: love, love, love. But then when it comes to not giving enough answers — to be too dreamy. I’d put this under strong contender, but I’d need to be convinced about the story arc.

  2. Kelly says:

    I think this is all interpretation-based. I agree 100% on your discussion of the language and world building, but I thought that the entire story was based on emotionally investing in Chloe. While we don’t get the meat and potatoes of who she is in the way we get it about Ruby, we DO get an investment in Chloe because we’re buying every thing she sells us about her sister, even if we don’t necessarily buy that her sister is what she’s made her out to be. I found Chloe to be strong/emotionally engaging/complex because she ISN’T easy to read. We’re intentionally led to see how much there is to Ruby through Chloe, and how we see Ruby is testament to Chloe’s strength as a character.

    Your points about initial and secondary reads with this book, though, is spot on. My first read I was a little let down with the ending. But something about it FORCED me to go back and reread. I felt like I was a little teased with such gorgeous writing. But when I stepped back and reread it, removing the beauty of the words (and the lace that Chloe herself is putting over our eyes as readers), the story arc is a heck of a lot stronger. The ending is downright chilling. And again, it gave me a lot more about Chloe. She’s the one who pulls the game on us.

    But, as you’ve both conceded, two reads. Especially in a mountain of reading…

  3. Sarah Couri says:

    Kelly, thanks! We’ve both been really curious what reaction a reread would net, so it’s good to hear from someone who’s done it.

  4. Benjamin says:

    Ladies! Your tastes have obviously been refined by committee work. I loved the book in all its chilling, gorgeous glory and I am excited for a second read at some point. I recall being pleasantly surprised that Nova Ren Suma did not feel obliged to tell us the hows and whys of the plot, but instead allowed some of the big questions of the story to just drift away. She is an author to keep an eye on. Regardless, this is quite a feat as a YA debut.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      @Benjamin: I did mention bad book disease, right? Also known as burnout? Seriously, though, I think the more you read (in any field), the more selective you become–possibly sometimes too much so? Because you have a greater sense of the range of what’s out there, which for me means my bar keeps going up. It’s also about the year as a whole: if we get to early January and I don’t have five books I feel confident betting on, I’ll be rereading some of the books that stuck with me and quite possibly contradicting my earlier thoughts. The fact that we can keep circling and arguing over a book sometimes says more than an initial impression.

  5. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Part of the reason I’m enjoying this blog (tho will be frustrated a bit) is I’ve been enjoying reading for me (outside of reading nonfiction, of course) instead of reading thru Printz glasses. One thing about Imaginary Girls — it sticks with the reader. Some books seem good – -well, yes, they are good — and they’re loved in the moment but then, well, two months later it’s what’s that book again. Imaginary Girls sticks; I’m still thinking about it. And I’ll agree with Kelly in that a reread of this adds to the reading experience; I didn’t get to reread the whole thing (just the first few chapters) and, as one example, the number of times Ruby is called magical and the reader doesn’t realize Chloe is being literal.

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