The Blue Girl by Charles de Lint ~ 2004. This edition: Firebird, 2006. Paperback. ISBN: 0-14-240545-0. 368 pages.
My rating: 6/10
This was supposed to be my “Hallowe’en theme” book post, but I kept putting it off, and by golly it’s now November 3rd so I’d better get it over and done with.
I almost put it away without mention, because it’s a minor blip on my reading radar screen, but then I remembered that Charles de Lint is Canadian, and I did promise over at John Mutford’s 10th Annual Canadian Book Challenge to review all the Canadian books I read from July 2016 to June 2017, and so far I have done this for all of one book since July. (Can that be possible? Did I miss some somehow, or am I reading strictly non-Canadian stuff lately? Hmm.)
The Blue Girl is the very first Charles de Lint fantasy I’ve been able to stick with to the end, and I rather wonder why that is. The man can write, no question about that, and sometimes even shows some flare. So perhaps it’s the genre, fantasy being so easy to go wrong with, all overdone and improbable as it so often turns out to be.
This novel is “Young Adult” all the way, and maybe that’s why I found it a relative breeze to get through, because de Lint herein shows a much lighter, surer hand with his storytelling than in his more “serious” adult-oriented fantasies, which I found put me off with their strangely plodding plots and frequent over telling.
The Blue Girl trusts the reader more, and I liked that. Of course, when one considers that Charles de Lint has written something like 70 books (!) in his career so far (his first book was published in 1984, and he’s still going strong), one expects a certain competence of craft.
Summary, from the catalogue data section on the copyright page:
New at her high school, Imogene enlists the help of her introverted friend Maxine and the ghost of a boy who haunts the school after receiving warnings through her dreams that soul-eaters are threatening her life.
Yawn, right? I mean, soul-eaters. Give us a break!
Good thing I never read the précis until after I finished the book, because I don’t think I would have started it with that sort of pre-warning.
But start it I did, and it hooked me, and I made it to the end cheering on the heroine and her sidekicks, with only one bitter moment of “Aargh! What is the author doing?!” reader’s rage when he utterly undersells the climactic confrontation-between-heroine-and-soul-eaters scene. He got me back with what turned out to be a rather charming ending, but that cop-out still rankles a bit, and will, I suspect, remain the strongest memory of this not particularly original book. Which maybe argues that de Lint is rather clever after all.
17-year-old Imogene, raised on a hippy commune, then experiencing life as a loner-outcast at her old highschool and by compensation getting all involved with a gang, has moved to a new city with her mom and older brother. A new school means a new life, and a chance for reinvention, and Imogene has the best of intentions.
Too bad that she runs afoul of her new school’s Mean Girl and Top Jock couple the very first day, compounding her getting-it-wrongness by befriending geeky Maxine, the previous Chief Outcast. So now there are two losers at the bottom of the pecking order. Oh my, what will happen next? (No, that’s not a real question.)
Quite a lot, in fact, much of which has little to do with the ongoing teenage highschool power struggle, because all of a sudden Imogene has a crop of newer, bigger, much more supernatural problems. Her dreams are getting really real, and center on the nightly emergence from her bedroom closet of a manifestation of her childhood imaginary friend, Pelly, accompanied by a ragged band (literally) of “patchwork creatures made out of words and rags and twigs, of bits of wool and fur, skin and bone…”
Then there’s tragically, eternally adolescent Ghost, haunting the halls of the high school since his deadly fall from the school roof some years ago, who develops a crush on Imogene, which sets her up for even more attention from the Things residing on The Other Side.
I won’t go in to explanations of all the trope-ridden happenings of the book, for de Lint doesn’t break much new ground here. My co-reader whom I pressed the book upon for a second opinion, a keen and happily cynical connoisseur of teen-market fantasy, was gleeful in confirming all of the stereotypes and clichés marching around in predictable lock-step, acting just as they were supposed to.
Ah, the light blinks on! It’s all about comfort reading, isn’t it? No rules are so strong as those that govern our fictional safe zones.
What else do I want to say?
The writing is smooth, the characters either offbeat and likeable, satisfyingly hateable, or shudderingly creepy. (There were bits when I had to have the lights on. Things in Closets. Brrr!) The story amuses, and the key characters don’t take themselves too seriously, despite their ongoing dual battle with Real World school bullies and Other World bad things. There’s a lot of witty humour in here; occasionally I laughed out loud, which is rare for me, and a mark of high enjoyment indeed.
The girl in question does indeed at one point turn blue. Which isn’t as funny as the writer seems to think it is, which lost him a full point.
A point was also lost by the non-epic dissolution of the Epic Battle Scene. And another point gone for the introduction of a Random Internet Mentor who hands out pertinent evil-fighting advice in the nick of time. One more gone because of unbelievability of the melding of Real and Other worlds – the author at some point left off trying to make it plausible, he abandoned the attempt with a “Here it is, don’t look at it too hard, just step inside.”
What does that leave us with?
Well on the okay side of the personal rating scale, so I’m good with that.
Oh yes. If you are a parent considering this for your young reader, there are some intense-ish scenes, including a fairly graphic depiction of how Ghost got to be dead. Also a comfortably relaxed attitude towards sex, which certain of the key characters are happily enjoying with their significant others, though that action’s all off-stage.
There’s a lot worse out there, for this kind of thing.
Decent job, Charles de Lint, despite my continual panning of your plotting technique. I may try some of your stuff again someday. Maybe another of the YA targeted books versus a grownup one. The Blue Girl left me smiling.