Reviewed by Amy, Ferguson Library
This lyrical, mysterious novel walks the line between true paranormal and magical realism, as it brings up questions of love, safety, and what is real. Every year Cara, her sister Alice, her ex-step-brother Sam and her mom endure the accident season. A month in which accidents happen to all of them. Accidents that include everything from cuts and bruises to broken bones, concussions, near drownings and, during the worst years, death. As the story unfolds, Cara searches for Elsie, a girl who she hopes has answers for her. Elsie is the girl who has no true friends. But for some reason, Elsie has appeared in all of Cara’s pictures, and when Cara decides to confront her, it turns out she has disappeared, and no one even seems worried. In fact no one seems to even really remember she exists. Not even the teachers.
Fowley-Doyle allows the story to unfold slowly, as Cara uncovers secret upon secret about the past, about her family, and even about herself. The writing is powerful and lyrical and unusually polished for a first novel. Each chapter draws the reader further into Cara’s eerie and uncanny world, as the story’s layers first pile up and then slowly peel back.
Somehow, the story seems to move at both a leisurely pace and at breakneck speed at the same time, immersing the reader in this strange world, and masterfully building suspense, making the book difficult to put down.
Fowley-Doyle neatly walks the wire between creating an overly neat ending and leaving the reader without enough answers. The ending is emotionally satisfying, yet some questions are left unanswered, leaving the reader to walk away pondering what just happened.
This isn’t to say the book is perfect. Putting aside the suspension of disbelief needed for the excessive paranormal elements, there is the practical issue that it seems impossible that no one would have alerted the authorities about the numerous injuries and raised questions of abuse. The magical realism also sometimes becomes overly immersive, threatening to overwhelm the story itself, and while Cara maintains that she has an overly active imagination, and perhaps she imagined some of what happens, it sometimes feels as if the author isn’t sure what to believe either. Additionally, some of the supernatural elements feel somewhat superfluous or overly symbolic, as if the author was attempting to do too much. And finally, several of the secondary characters are thinly drawn ciphers, primarily there to drive the plot.
However, the story is written as if the only people important in Cara’s life are her small circle, and as it is written in first person, the lack of development of secondary characters could, in fact, be seen as a purposeful reflection of the way Cara sees (or doesn’t see, as it were) them, and not a fault of the writing. Ultimately, the intensity and lyricism of the writing, the general tightness of the plot, the careful unfolding of the story and back-story, the well-developed and complex main characters, the powerful tension as the plot unfolds, and the unique premise come together to create a fascinating and unforgettable whole that is well worth reading, and certainly hard to put down.
Whether or not it will stand up to other titles this year in the awards forum is a good question. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating and different read, and well worth picking up. A great story from a new author worth watching.