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09:00 pm: Review of Charles de Lint's 'The Blue Girl'
Just as for the other books I’ve reviewed, there will be very mild spoilers here, so you should DEFINITELY NOT READ THIS if you want everything in the book to be a complete surprise.



Brief Summary: This is the story of Imogene, who’s just moved to the Canadian city of Newford after spending a few years as part of a gang in Tyson (and before that growing up on a hippie commune). She immediately makes friends with Maxine, the “loser girl” at high school, and starts trying to live a normal life for the first time. But when she attracts the attention of the high school’s ghost, Adrian, and then the attention of Adrian’s malicious fairy friends, life becomes more than a little hellish.

The Setting: This is something that would probably have more impact on someone who’s read more of de Lint’s works. His stories of Newford connect and intertwine, and since he’s written so many books, I imagine the backstory is quite complex by now. Of the Newford books, I’ve only read Memory and Dream and Someplace To Be Flying all the way through, so I’m missing out on a lot, I know. I also know that some of the background is explained in his short story collections, which leave me utterly and completely cold and which I’ve never been able to finish. References to Jilly Coppercorn, Christy Riddell, someone named Esmeralda, and “the House” will probably make more sense to a devoted Newford reader.

But Newford seems real enough, including the high school. De Lint has the “urban” part of urban fantasy down pat. The nasty little high school rivalries play a fairly big part in this story, and while Imogene and Maxine aren’t wildly popular, they aren’t the lonely persecuted nerds either. In fact, Imogene ends the story by finding out that the “popular” kids have their own kind of problems, which impressed me because so many fantasy authors writing about teenagers take the opposite route. And the details of the furnace room, the local graveyard, Maxine’s room at home, all work fine—stimulating without straying into purple.

The main problem is the people who make up part of that Newford background, and show up somewhat randomly in the story to help the girls. One problem with interconnected fantasy settings is that the books in them begin not to stand on their own. I don’t think The Blue Girl does, though it’s not a sequel or prequel to anything (so far as I can tell). But I couldn’t just pick it up and have everything in the story make sense, which left me unsatisfied.

Come to think of that, that same dissatisfaction endured with many of the characters.

The Characters: The three main characters are Imogene, Maxine, and Adrian, the ghost. The story is told in rotating chapters from each of their points-of-view, starting in “Then,” when Imogene first came to Newford, and “Now,” when the main action of the story occurs.

I think it only fit that I should warn people who are sensitive to this kind of thing that the “Then” chapters are in past tense and the “Now” chapters are in present tense, and all are first-person. I was able to read it, because the language is light and clear and moves quickly, but the tense reintroduced itself to my attention when I was least expecting it. You might want to stay away from the book if that bothers you.

Adrian was the easiest character to sympathize with, for me. In life, he was the true loser—the lonely, nerdy kid whom nobody really knows, who gets pushed around, who read too much but couldn’t use that knowledge to dazzle anybody else. He made friends with the fairies in the school because they were the only ones who were nice to him, and so of course they were instrumental in the way he died. That would be Adrian’s kind of luck. He has plenty of bad traits that show through as the story continues, including cowardice and the kind of bumbling good intentions that never come out right. Yet in the end he does do the right thing. The most intense emotions I had in the book concerned him.

Maxine was…Maxine. Her chapters were easy to read, but for a long time I couldn’t figure out why the story also needed to be told from her POV; more actual action occurs with Imogene and Adrian. I finally realized that she does a lot of the detective work to try and figure out how to fight the malicious fairies attacking Imogene, and also the legwork necessary to implement Imogene’s solutions. She didn’t have much of an impact on me when her chapters were over, though.

Imogene is even more difficult. She’s tough, spunky, knows good comebacks, and is attempting to forget the gang life she led in Tyson, a gang life that is left mostly shadowy. She’s not an annoying character to read, in that not every thought is sarcastic. She has an imaginary friend who shows back up, but her acceptance of him is mediated through the fact that she’s already accepted a ghost as her friend and has a mother who’s raised her very open-mindedly. Yet when the book was done, I found myself as cold towards her as I was towards the characters in de Lint’s short stories. So I thought about it, and thought about it, and…

Oh, yes.

We have Teh Speshul.

Imogene has a “shine” to her that attracts the malicious fairies. It’s said explicitly at several points in the book that it’s very rare, and not even Imogene’s blood relatives carry it. It’s also said that it doesn’t have to do with the mere fact that she can see fairies and ghosts. She’s just special in some way that makes the soul-eaters want her. This is never, ever explained. It’s just There, and Teh Speshul that’s just There makes my hair stand on end. The narration told me again and again that Imogene was different, unique, wonderful. I could see that she was different from most of the other characters in the book. I disagreed that she was unique, and I didn’t think just being different made her wonderful.

There’s also the book’s ending, which after a big build-up to the dreadful climax, goes fizzle, and which Imogene is responsible for. It’s of a piece with the random characters from other Newford stories in the book, in that it shows up out of the blue (ha ha). You can accept it, but it’s very much an acceptance that depends on your tolerance for Imogene’s extra-special cleverness.

The Plot: The plot is divided in two: Imogene and Maxine’s story with the bullies at school, and the story of the soul-eaters pursuing Imogene. The first half could easily have been the most boring, but I found it interesting, and the bullies seemed like real people, especially towards the end. They were the main reason I found the book fascinating instead of simply frustrating. Despite the (over)abundance of fairies and supernatural occurrences in The Blue Girl, this part kept the plot tied firmly to earth.

The second part would have been all right, if not exactly satisfying, without that damp firecracker of an ending. There’s waaay too much fairy lore and random Newford characters from other stories in there. It might make much more sense to a de Lint expert, where I’m just a novice. All I know is that I was able to read his other books without feeling lost in a sea of non-explained, tossed-in information, and this one, I couldn’t.

Final Analysis: I read The Blue Girl from the library. I would recommend doing the same, particularly if you haven’t read the other Newford books or are wary of stories leapfrogging between tenses. A confirmed de Lint fan will probably enjoy it more than I did, so don’t take this as the last word. But for me, it was missing the spark of interest and pleasure that let me connect with his other works.



Currently reading Sarah Micklem’s Firethorn, which shall be the next reviewed book.

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Comments

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 17th, 2011 10:47 pm (UTC)

your a good writer

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Your very talented in your words and helped me very much on my English assigment. thank you
have you ever thought about writing your own books? you could probably be a very talented writer because you get the big picture of things. anyways thanks for the help :)
From:[info]honghong1
Date:November 19th, 2012 08:57 am (UTC)
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 22nd, 2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
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While Charles de Lint is a Canadian author, Newford is not meant to be a Canadian city. De Lint says he explicitly gave it an American legal system.
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