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. London might not be dead after all, Ruby is hiding deadly secrets, and something in the reservoir wants to find Chloe…
First, a slight disclaimer. Nova is a friend(ly acquaintance) of mine, and she actually mentioned this book to me in passing ages before it was finished up or sold. Since she’s very close with her younger sister and knows that I’m very close with my older sister, she mentioned to me she was writing a book about, well, sisters. And at its heart, all fantastical elements aside, that’s what Imaginary Girls is: a story about sisters.
That’s the level where the book got me. It’s narrated by Chloe, a younger sister who was essentially raised by Ruby, her older sister — and oh yeah, did I mention they live in a tiny town in upstate New York? Just like my sister and I did, growing up? So for Chloe, Ruby has always been this larger-than-life figure, a celebrity in their home town. Chloe’s internal struggle between wanting to be herself, not just Ruby’s Little Sister, but also wanting everyone to know about her connection to Ruby and how she’s Ruby’s favorite person, were so spot-on that it ached (and frankly it astounded me that this book was written by an older, not younger, sibling). And all the identifying I did made the book’s escalation extra-eerie, as it builds up and becomes clear that Ruby doesn’t merely seem larger than life, she’s actually got some kind of powers that bend the world to suit her.
I will say, the major strengths of the book are the relationship between the girls and the book’s tone, which is creepy but beautiful, and more literary than most of what I read. Aside from the girls’ relationship, the book also has some fantastic world building. There’s a slightly claustrophobic, small town feel, which just feeds into the creepy tone of the whole book as the town falls more and more under Ruby’s spell; and there’s Olive, the other tiny town — the one that was drowned when the reservoir was built. I shudder just thinking about it.
The book’s actual plot (the dead girl who won’t stay dead, and how no one notices but Chloe) is a little bit secondary to all that. I pretty much guessed the major twist from the get-go. But it also feels to me like the plot in Imaginary Girls exists mostly as a peg to hang Chloe and Ruby’s relationship on. Generally, something that’s not plot-driven is a pretty big problem for me, and because of that, it actually took me a few chapters to get into it. But I’m aware that that’s totally a your-mileage-may-vary thing, and the book definitely seems to accomplish what it wants to do, and does those things very well.
That conflict, between my love of plot and fast paces, and the fact that those things are just not what this book is about (not to mention the fact that I think the writer is awesome) makes it really hard to rate, but I’m going to give Imaginary Girls four cupcakes.