Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Tags: YA, small town, sisters


Chloe knows that her magnetic older sister Ruby would do anything to make sure Chloe is happy. So when Chloe returns to their small Hudson Valley town two years after the tragedy that initially drove her away, everything seems to be as it once was. But it is the very sameness of their lives that makes Chloe suspicious. Ruby also seems to be acting strangely, making unreasonable demands, disregarding everyone’s feelings except the two of theirs. What secrets are Ruby hiding, and how far will she let things go before everything falls apart?


Beautiful prose, a mesmerizing setting, and a mysterious premise are, in the end, not quite enough to make up for the minimal character development and slow-moving plot in this ambitious and convoluted novel. IMAGINARY GIRLS is beautifully written, but the lack of attachment I felt for any of the characters meant that I actually had to struggle to finish this book.

The jacket copy for IMAGINARY GIRLS doesn’t tell you much, and it’s better if you go into the book knowing just the little you know. Nova Ren Suma writes in a languid style similar to Sarah Dessen when she is feeling particularly poignant, meaning that the small-town reservoir-side setting and the weirdness of the situation is well-evoked. IMAGINARY GIRLS is a very atmospheric novel—and even though it’s hard express the significance of the setting, it’s also probably impossible to imagine this story set elsewhere.

The fact that IMAGINARY GIRLS seems to focus more on beautiful prose than character development means that the characters—not the least of which is Chloe, the protagonist/narrator—come off as only vaguely intriguing, their interestingness born more out of the roles they are assigned in the story than they themselves. Chloe in particular is like a spluttering match next to Ruby’s Mag-lite glow—and yet Ruby’s magnetic persona, unfortunately, anchors its credibility in the telling of her magnetism rather than the showing of it. Chloe waxes eloquent for so long on Ruby this, Ruby that, that, “in the flesh,” Ruby is actually not as intriguing as Chloe makes her sound.

Chloe suffers from “everyone is more interesting than me”-itis. In short, Chloe has no personality. She has no defining characteristics besides being the narrator and Ruby’s younger sister, which I suppose is partially the point, but then she doesn’t grow a whit throughout the course of the novel. Why is it all too easy for protagonists in contemporarily set novels to be passive and bland? I really wish authors would catch themselves when they are writing bubbles as main characters: see-through substanceless creatures that threaten to disappear into nothing at the slightest touch.

IMAGINARY GIRLS didn’t work for me primarily because of these reasons, but I know that the majority of other readers have really loved this book, so don’t take my word for it. I wonder, though, if there are or will be other readers out there who had the same problems with this book as I did.

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen
Jenny Han
Deb Caletti

Cover discussion: In-te-res-tinggg. It's quite a stunning image... but as far as I'm concerned, it wasn't the most representative of the story for me.

Dutton Juvenile / June 14, 2011 / Hardcover / 352pp. / $17.99

Requested for review from publisher/NetGalley.


  1. I had the same problem you did! I actually didn't even finish it in the end because I disliked it so much. I didn't get what made Ruby so special either, except for her rudeness. And you're right about Chloe not having a personality, it was really annoying.
    Even though I feel kind of mean saying it, I'm glad I'm not the only one who didn't like it.

  2. I liked the flowery writing and the premise, but didn't like how the story ended.

    I think the cover does represent the story, but I can't go into here without adding spoilers. I can say, the red ribbons and drowning did hold significance.

  3. Actually, this isn't the first time I've read about these problems with the story. So far I've noticed that the characterization is crummy and unpleasant and that some people didn't enjoy the ending. Some couldn't even get into the book because of the lack of connection with the main character. I don't particularly like bland and "bubble"-like characters, so I think I'll pass on this one.

    ~ Asher (from Paranormal Indulgence)

  4. I really loved the atmospheric-ness of the writing, the setting was so awesome and the reservoir was... what's a nice way to say "effing creepy"? But I agree that the character's weren't too strong.

    I feel like the marketing went wrong in putting this in YA. It felt like an adult literary novel to me.

  5. i read a couple of chapters and i couldn't get into it. not a fan of the writing.

  6. I haven't read this book yet but I've heard a lot of mixed reviews. I understand the things you mentioned in this review can make it hard for someone to like a book. I'd like to see how I like it.

  7. Sorry to hear you didn't like it, good review though.

  8. Thanks for the review, Steph! I bought Imaginary Girls awhile ago but I still haven't had a chance to read it yet... It's too bad you didn't enjoy it as much as you might have hoped, but I'm glad to hear you liked Nova's writing style.

  9. I found this really difficult to read. At first I found the writing mesmerising but Ruby and Chloe soon started to irritate me - both of them seemingly nothing by a cipher for the other and a plot that went, well, nowhere much. However, the atmosphere was stiflingly creepy and the prose beautiful so I'd be interesting to read whatever the author produces next.

  10. This is actually one of my favorite reads this year. :)


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