(Reposted from Goodreads)
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
OK, I think I’m finally ready to review this properly. Deep breath…
I didn’t like this book.
I know, I know, it has four stars and may even deserve five, but I didn’t LIKE it. It hit too close to home, and I’m having trouble working out a way to discuss that without laying my own crap out all over the internet in gruesome and excessive detail.
I’m going to have to approach this obliquely, I fear.
Long ago, when I first became a parent, I read a lot of parenting books. One idea in particular hit me hard — so hard that I can’t even figure out where I first read about it, the source got knocked right out of my brain. That idea was “differentiation”.
Differentiation is the process by which children learn that they are different people from their parents. I realize that sounds both trivial and obvious, but it’s not. It usually happens in stages; a child begins to realize things like “Oh, I like olives and mom doesn’t, and that’s ok because we’re different people!” or “Sometimes Daddy is WRONG!” It’s basic boundaries-building. This is mine, THAT is yours, we are not identical and that is as must be.
For some people, believe it or not, this process doesn’t quite manage to happen. Sometimes a parent is so self-centered, needy, and/or charismatic that the children can’t (or won’t) pull away. that’s what I see, laid out starkly and grimly, in this novel. Ruby has been Chloe’s default parent. Chloe can’t tell where she ends and her sister begins. Ruby is such a narcissist she encourages this. They’re a cult of two, and Chloe never manages to break free.
The magic-realism, or surrealism, or however the nightmarish imagery should be categorized, serves to amplify this dynamic. It’s the psychological made literal, the mind turned inside-out. And it’s not like Chloe doesn’t see the discrepancies between Ruby’s domain and naked reality. She absolutely sees them, and they bother her a little bit.
But not enough to break free. Even with Ruby “dead” (and I mean, is she? Certainly if you gauge by Chloe’s psyche, the answer has to be no), there is no escape for poor Chloe.
And that, I think, is the crux of my dislike. The book was well-written and compelling and creepy, and you should absolutely read it, but the ending made me want to punch holes in the wall. I want to howl and burn things. And yes, there is personal history wrapped up in my reaction, and no, I’m not explaining it in any more detail than that.
It’s a hard book. A bullying book, compelling you to read even when you hate it. Worth the time, and worth the heartache, but I have to keep reminding myself that escape is possible, even if Chloe didn’t want it.
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