Alicia Michielli, assistant manager of Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo, N.Y., was pleased to discover Karen Foxlee’s The Midnight Dress, which she is eager to handsell when it is released by Knopf in October.
With so much fantasy and science fiction dominating YA literature these days, I am always on the lookout for new and exciting books about real situations that surpass run-of-the-mill teen romances. Don’t get me wrong, I adore fantasy and magic, but I always seem to have a handful of YA customers searching for something “real” in their stories, far from dragons and sorcerers. In The Midnight Dress, Karen Foxlee has managed to spin a story both dark and tender, mysterious and heartbreakingly real, but shot through with magic of its own making.
Fifteen-year-old Rose is adrift with an alcoholic father, coasting on fumes into a small Australian town. Here she meets dreamy Pearl, the light to Rose’s darkness, the hope to Rose’s despair. While Pearl is aching to be free, Rose yearns for a respite from her sadness and a place to call home. At Pearl’s insistence, Rose calls on Edie Baker, an old woman with a strange history and a legendary talent for dressmaking, to create a dress for the town’s annual harvest festival parade. As Rose’s dress takes shape, so do the desperate hopes of both teens, and when a girl goes missing the night of the festival, every assumption we have is set spinning.
What I loved about this book is that despite its “reality,” Foxlee’s storytelling has a lyrical beauty that reads like a contemporary fairy tale. The contrast of light and dark in the girls’ friendship makes it all the more intense, and I found myself aching along with their passions and quiet perils. This book of mystery, friendship, love, and loss left me with tears in my eyes and a bit of longing in my heart.
While I always have precocious younger readers who like to venture into the YA section, I feel that, due to some mature themes, this is definitely a title for teenage readers. I think that fans of Sarah Dessen, Rainbow Rowell, and Deb Caletti will love this book, and I look forward not only to putting it in their hands, but to hearing their opinions of this wonderful voice in YA literature.