A note from Headbuzzer: This Buzz Blogger review is brought to you by JenR! You can check out her blog,YA Romantics, here! You can also follow her on @JenRyland! We've crossposted JenR's review down below, but you can read the original post here.
SUMMARY: Quiet misfit Rose doesn't expect to fall in love with the sleepy beach town of Leonora. Nor does she expect to become fast friends with beautiful, vivacious Pearl Kelly, organizer of the high school float at the annual Harvest Festival parade. It's better not to get too attached when Rose and her father live on the road, driving their caravan from one place to the next whenever her dad gets itchy feet. But Rose can't resist the mysterious charms of the town or the popular girl, try as she might.
Pearl convinces Rose to visit Edie Baker, once a renowned dressmaker, now a rumored witch. Together Rose and Edie hand-stitch an unforgettable dress of midnight blue for Rose to wear at the Harvest Festival—a dress that will have long-lasting consequences on life in Leonora, a dress that will seal the fate of one of the girls. Karen Foxlee's breathtaking novel weaves friendship, magic, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and distinctly original.
REVIEW: My take: I went into this book expecting the typical YA paranormal -- new girl in town, big dance coming up at school, girls in prom dresses, yada, yada - the same story I've read and loved a dozen times over.
What I got instead was a spellbinding story that was one part dark fairy tale, one part coming of age story, one part mystery. With beautiful yet compellingly readable prose, a vivid setting, and an inventive narrative structure, The Midnight Dress had me enthralled from the first sentence to the last.
Will you forgive me if I tell you the ending?
I loved the way that the book's narrative flashed forward and back, alternating between the investigation of a tragedy on the night of the Harvest Festival to the story of Rose Lovell, who arrives in a sleepy beach town in Queensland, Australia, with her ne'er-do-well father. In the wrong hands, this kind of technique can be confusing, but it worked beautifully here. Each storyline -- the investigation and Rose's integration into town -- moves forward on its own, but each illuminates the other.
The clouds began to pile up in the small jagged patch of sky above the little falls … The day thrummed with the sounds of the forest, the rhythmical drone of cicadas, the ringing of insects, the chatter of birds.
The story is set in Queensland, Australia in 1986. (I hadn't realized that the book was set in the 1980s until one of the characters referred to a major world event of the time.) As in many Australian novels, the setting is a central part of the story. From the violent rainstorms of the "wet"season to the snakes that slither through the sugar cane fields, the book's descriptions convey the simultaneous beauty and menace of nature.
A type of dark fairy tale story is lurking there.
The Midnight Dress is one of those books that feels as if it's weaving a magical spell over you. There are the two main story lines, as described above, but then the narrative is also filled with other, smaller stories of love and betrayal and tragedy. Rose's friend Pearl tells Rose about the wildly romantic (and wildly improbable) plots of the romance novels she picks up at the Blue Moon Book Exchange. As Rose and town recluse Edie Baker work to sew Rose's Harvest Festival dress, Edie tells Rose strange and tragic stories about her family. As I read, I could feel the way that all Rose's emotions and all Edie's family history were being sewn right into Rose's dress. By the time the Harvest Festival arrives, I was almost expecting something really dramatic and crazy -- Carrie-prom-style. But, when the tragedy was finally revealed, it was like everything else in this book -- understated and deeply resonant.
I highly recommend this one, especially to fans of dark, lush, atmospheric books like Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke or Chime by Franny Billingsley.
This post was originally published on JenRyland.blogspot.com on October 9th, 2013