Book Review: Imaginary Girls

Tuesday 5 May 2015 by

Imaginary Girls, Nova Ren Suma, Book, Speak, Penguin, Young AdultImaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Published by Speak/Penguin

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.


Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma tells the story of sisters Chloe and Ruby, and the mystery surrounding their classmate London.

One night while partying at a reservoir Chloe is dared to swim across it, as she does she discovers London’s dead body. After the incident, Chloe moves away to live with her father until a year later when Ruby arrives to take her home. When she returns to her hometown, Chloe discovers that London has also returned.

The overriding theme of the novel is the relationship between Chloe and the enigmatic Ruby who seems to have everyone she encounters under her spell and be able to get them to carry out her whims without question. It’s an interesting and sometimes unnerving relationship to explore. Is Ruby protecting or controlling Chloe? Why won’t she address the fact that a girl has returned from the dead? What exactly is she hiding and why does she have such a hold over her sister?

As the novel progresses, the creeping tension envelops you and you almost feel like the reservoir is getting its grips on you in the way it does the central characters. The story is a slow-burner, building atmosphere for the first hundred pages or so but once I got to around page 150 or so I found myself utterly gripped and picking it up again nearly as soon as I put it down, eager to find out what was going on and discovering some tense wait, what just happened? moments that kept me hooked. The book gets more and more eerie as it progresses, feeling almost equal parts psychological horror as mystery.

Suma’s carefully crafted prose draws you deep into the setting that feels all too real. When she writes of the reservoir you can almost smell the water, trees and mud, and feel as if the mist from the water is curling round your arms and pulling you in. It is a truly atmospheric novel that creeps under your skin in the best possible way. It may not offer solid answers but it gets you thinking, and keeps you at it, long after you turn the final page.

It’s difficult to say whether or not I loved the novel but I certainly enjoyed reading it as well as the journey it took me on, and the way in which it puzzled me. The lead characters themselves are the main difficulty here as they don’t seem particularly likeable – that’s not too much of a problem for me as I like to read about all kinds of characters and don’t necessarily need to like them, but it may cause difficulties for some readers. However, the plot, intrigue and Suma’s skilful writing override that to the point that it doesn’t quite matter.

Whilst Imaginary Girls is technically Young Adult it certainly isn’t typical of many novels about teenage girls and, more than most, feels equally appealing to a more mature audience. Surreal, chilling and eerily beautiful, this is a novel unlike any other I have read before and one I can’t help but recommend.

Nerissa is a writer, mummy and rather proud geek living in the countryside. In between playtime, cuddles and fun times she loves to read, knit, bake and write Young Adult and children’s fiction.

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