October 24, 2019

Nova Ren Suma: "Imaginary Girls"

Title: Imaginary Girls [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Nova Ren Suma [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Afterlife, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2011
Age: 14+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Creative spin on the mean girl/toxic sisterly relationship trope. Masterful use of magical realism, with characters who nevertheless feel deeply real. Evocative writing that never gets purple.
Cons: The aforementioned trope, if you're not into it (though I'm not, and it worked for me here). The first chapters are a tad slow, and the ending won't give you straight answers.
WARNING! Death by water, underage drinking, underage sex (though not actually described), talk of drugs.
Will appeal to: Those who love a marriage between the mundane and the supernatural - with bonus surprises and characters who get under your skin.

Blurb: Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be contained or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby. But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has deeply hidden away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood. (Amazon)

Review: If you don't click with magical realism, this is not the book for you. If you do, you'll ADORE IG. I fell in love with Suma while reading The Walls Around Us, and I still have to find a book by her that doesn't make me spellbound.


Caveat: I don't like mean-girl books. I don't like books about toxic relationships. But Suma's damaged girls - the ones that, more or less, populate all the stories she's written so far - I can't seem to hate. More often than not, they have some redeeming quality/reason for being what they are, or at least they're so human (maybe twisted sometimes, but human) that you can't help but empathise with them. I do love magical realism with all my heart though, and Nova Ren Suma is the queen of it. If Imaginary Girls didn't quite reach the brilliance of The Walls Around Us - my first Suma book - for this reader, it's not for lack of trying. Actually, the way IG combines an unhealthy but ultimately moving sisterly bond (that thing oh so very real) with impossible occurrences and inexplicable powers is a work of art, and both Ruby's character and her hold on the town - plus the main event around which the book unfolds and the ripples* it sends out - go far and beyond what you would expect. Because Ruby's small community may revolve around her, and she may be able to bend it to her will, and of course she will go to any length to protect her sister Chloe, but she's not magical, and even her ability is bound by rules (and, as it's to be expected, comes at a high price). The consequences of what Ruby did to protect Chloe get revealed bit by bit, and let me tell you, Suma's imagination goes wild. There's this one incident in particular that had me drop my jaw, because, of all the crazy things I was expecting, that one wasn't even on my radar.

* If you've read the book already, you will have realised...the pun was intended 😁. [...]


The story is told from Chloe's POV, and at first tricks you into believing it's all about a small town and a couple of sisters in an unhealthy relationships - before you realise that's just the surface (oops. Another pun...). But the bond between Chloe and Ruby IS the heart of this book - only with different (and eerier) consequences that you might expect. Most reviewers have of course commented about the way everyone in town - Chloe included - dances to Ruby's tune, not because she forces them, but because they're mesmerised by her in an inexplicable way, and how bad it is that Chloe can't seem to shake Ruby's influence and move on, and how wrong the relationship is on Chloe's end. But to me, even if apparently calling all the shots, Ruby isn't the dominant partner as we might think she is. Her life revolves around her younger sister, to the point that she not only pulls her most extreme trick in order to keep Chloe safe, but two years after, tries to bend reality itself to her will, in a crazy attempt to right things - until she concocts a last, desperate plan. Also, while Chloe mostly seem to follow Ruby's (sometimes plain odd) directives, she quietly does as she pleases when it counts the most for her - and she goes as far as to tell us so. To me, their co-dependence is equally toxic on both ends, and the ending just shows to what extent. Plus, whatever the reason why Chloe remembers the alternate reality everybody else has forgotten, it clearly isn't because Ruby "let" her - another nail in the coffin of the weaker sister theory (though Chloe doesn't remember the pivotal incident that started everything until Ruby opens up about it).


This is getting long, but I have to mention two more things. If you're the kind of reader who needs all the answers (or at least a good hint), you'll get disappointed. Some things are...just how they are, for no given reason. Of course, getting answers is SO not the point here, and what with this being magical realism, it makes sense. Also, most readers saw the ending as devoid of hope/depressing...and I get where they're coming from. But to me, there's a different angle to it, because in a way, it IS about hope. Maybe not of the healthy sort, but hope anyway - and who's to say that Ruby can't trick reality and make magic happen one more time? It's a bit of a stretch here, and it would reverse the point the story's making, but maybe - offscreen - Ruby and Chloe will get their happy ending one day...whatever "happy" means for them. Either way, this is a story that will stay with me (regardless of my reading it again, which I will plenty) - and chances are, it will stay with you, too 🙂.

For more books that defy categories click here.

Alternate, beyond gorgeous, absolutely relevant cover.
Though Ruby's not a redhead, and the dress is all wrong, but oh well...


  1. I remember this book when it came out, but I never got around to reading it. The themes are a little disturbing but I do love magical realism.

    1. Magical realism is indeed, more often than not, disturbing. Or at least it is in the books that I choose to read LOL. I'm glad that you managed to find softer ones that you like!

  2. This sounded so familiar to me but it didn't click until I saw the other cover at the bottom.

    I am not great with magical realism but sometimes I am?? lol

    I'm trying more genres and types of books now that I'm using my library though so I might give it a try.

    Karen @ For What It's worth

    Karen @ For What It's worth

    1. "I am not great with magical realism but sometimes I am?? lol"
      That's SO you 😂.

      I hope it works for you if you decide to try it!


Welcome to Offbeat YA! I love hearing from you and always - I mean always - acknowledge your comments. This used to be a full democracy place, because anyone could comment, regardless of being a registered member of any community. Unfortunately, I had to turn off the Anonymous comment option, because I was getting too much spam that didn't get filtered. So, you’ll need to have a Google account (Gmail will suffice) in order to comment. Sorry about that. Anyway, jump right in! Come on, you know you want to...😉 And be sure to leave a link!
BTW...I don't care if a post is a million months old - you comment, I respond. And you make my day 😃.
Note: this is an award/tag free blog. Sorry I can't accept nominations due to lack of time.

As per the GDPR guidelines, here's the link to my Privacy Policy.