Keertana's Reviews > Imaginary Girls

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
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bookshelves: beautiful-prose, why-the-hype

Rating: 2.5 Stars

When it comes to Imaginary Girls, I realize that I am, as I usually wind up being, in the minority. Nova Ren Suma's debut is a beautifully written novel, one that is creepy, psychological, and will make you think. It is also, however, a novel that lacks a plot, whose characters fail to have any depth, and one that leaves you rather frustrated and puzzled at the end. Or rather, it left me feeling that way. BUT, no matter what I say in this review, you should know, first and foremost, that the experience of reading this was...something else entirely. I did like this book and although I may not have loved it, mostly because of its ending, it is one that I can't recommend enough. For once, here is a novel that you truly have to read yourself to know if you'll like it or not because for each person, this story will affect you differently, deeply, and provocatively for sure.

As I said, Imaginary Girls has no plot. It's part mystery, part psychological thriller, part creepy contemporary, and part paranormal, all rolled into one. It is the story of two half-sisters, Ruby and Chloe, who have grown up alone. Ruby and Chloe's mother is an alcoholic and, as such, it has always been Ruby who has taken care of Chloe, from the very beginning itself. Yet, the bond between these two sisters is unlike anything you've ever seen before. For Chloe and Ruby, they aren't two separate girls, they're one girl in and of themselves and the line where one ends and the other begins is utterly blurred. It is Ruby whose personality dominates, Ruby who gets her way all the time, Ruby who never has to wear a uniform to work if she doesn't want to, Ruby who can manipulate everyone to fall in love with her and do as she says, and Ruby who will never let any harm come to Chloe.

When our story begins, Chloe is swimming across a reservoir in her town, believed to be swimming over the ruins of the ancient city of Olive. As Chloe swims, she sees the dead body of her classmate, London, and in her shock and grief, she leaves her sister to live with her father. When Ruby returns for Chloe, two years later, everything is just as it is in her town. Everything, including the fact that London is, against all odds, alive. Chloe, unable to believe the truth before her eyes, that somehow, her sister Ruby has brought London back from the dead, can't help but question everything and everyone, even those she trusted and once held dear.

Needless to say, Imaginary Girls is an intriguing tale. It moves at a snail pace, but you never feel it, feeling compelled to keep the pages flipped because of the prose and the strange, hollow voice that is Chloe's. We can see that Chloe has no individuality, no personality of her own, her life so used to being dictated by Ruby. From the way this novel is written, we can see that Chloe and Ruby have a relationship that is unhealthy at best. It is strange, it is odd, and from the beginning, we ache to know what's wrong, which one of the sisters is not quite right in the head, and why. Yet, one thing you must know when you go into this novel is that you receive no answers. Sure, there are a series of plot twists towards the end that are shocking and make everything clear, but although we know the what, we never know the how or even the why.

In Imaginary Girls, Ruby is the sole character with depth. It is her that we know best, for the rest of the town is a mere echo of her. Suma weaves this purposeful and haunting feeling perfectly throughout her story and, in addition to that, she takes one step further and makes the reservoir, the forgotten city of Olive, the only other character present. It's all very creepy, very scary, and very mind-boggling. Yet, what leaves me feeling disappointed by this novel is its ambiguity. It is all very well and good for the majority of the novel and is never felt as a hindrance, but by the end, when Chloe comes to know the truth of her sister and their relationship, when she comes to know that she must leave and live her own life, she fails to do this. Ultimately, Imaginary Girls contains no hope. It is a story of siblings who are unnaturally close due to circumstance and who literally cannot live without one another; their entire lives revolve around each other and they just cannot escape.

Furthermore, it is a story that has seemingly paranormal elements, but no concrete answers. Now, I never truly require answers in a novel, just like I don't require likable characters - which this novel has none of, by the way. I guess the best way to describe this ending is to compare it to Tana French's In the Woods. French gives us no concrete answers in her novel, but she does leave us with enough information to imagine what might have happened. Suma, however, tells you exactly what did happen, but she never tells you how it was accomplished. Perhaps, ultimately, this is what she meant to achieve; this sense of creeping fear, of never knowing what Ruby or Olive or Chloe really is; of feeling despair that Chloe can't escape her fate; of feeling confusion for Ruby isn't the villain here, no one is.

As a reader, however, I wasn't satisfied. I know that many others will be, but I couldn't bring myself to finish this with peace, happiness, or enjoyment. I ended it with frustration, with feeling as if I had wasted my time, for what is the purpose of writing a novel, a beautiful novel, with no hope? What is the point of writing a contemporary novel with paranormal elements and not being able to even allude to an explanation? In my eyes, it was thrown in to make this novel all the more mesmerizing, but it was never an idea that was solidified enough to take full form as a plot thread, merely as a passing explanation of a dream. Ultimately, though, Imaginary Girls is a novel you need to experience for yourself. It wasn't for me, but it will undoubtedly be a novel for countless others and even if it isn't, it is an experience too intriguing to be missed.
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Reading Progress

September 17, 2012 – Shelved
December 23, 2012 – Started Reading
December 26, 2012 – Shelved as: why-the-hype
December 26, 2012 – Shelved as: beautiful-prose
December 26, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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Sarah Marie You need to read this. I thought it was amazing, especially the writing. :)

Keertana I loved your review of it, Sarah! I definitely want to check it out soon! :)

hayden DEFINITELY check this out!!

Sarah Marie Keertana wrote: "I loved your review of it, Sarah! I definitely want to check it out soon! :)"

Thanks, Keertana. :) I look forward to hearing your thoughts. It's such a diverse book. Either you love it, hate it, or are confused by it.

Keertana @Hayden: I definitely will! Since you enjoyed this one so much as well I'll be bumping it up my TBR! :)

@Sarah: I hope I love it! *fingers crossed*

Wendy Darling Echoing all the other "YOU MUST READ ITs." :)

Keertana Wendy Darling wrote: "Echoing all the other "YOU MUST READ ITs." :)"

Yay! We usually have similar tastes, Wendy, so I'll definitely try to get a copy of this one soon! I'm so glad it has your seal of approval as well, though! :)

message 8: by Kyle (new) - added it

Kyle I hope to get this one for Christmas! : )

Keertana I hope you do, Kyle! I only read the first chapter, but it was brilliant! :)

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