The Midnight Dress
by Karen Foxlee
October 8, 2013
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Source: Around the World ARC Tours
Quiet misfit Rose doesn’t expect to fall in love with the sleepy beach town of Leonora. Nor does she expect to become fast friends with beautiful, vivacious Pearl Kelly, organizer of the high school float at the annual Harvest Festival parade. It’s better not to get too attached when Rose and her father live on the road, driving their caravan from one place to the next whenever her dad gets itchy feet. But Rose can’t resist the mysterious charms of the town or the popular girl, try as she might.
Pearl convinces Rose to visit Edie Baker, once a renowned dressmaker, now a rumored witch. Together Rose and Edie hand-stitch an unforgettable dress of midnight blue for Rose to wear at the Harvest Festival—a dress that will have long-lasting consequences on life in Leonora, a dress that will seal the fate of one of the girls. Karen Foxlee’s breathtaking novel weaves friendship, magic, and a murder mystery into something moving, real, and distinctly original. (Goodreads Summary.)
My Take On It
I didn’t know, when I read the synopsis of The Midnight Dress, that it was written by an Australian writer and took place in that country. I adore just about very Australian work I have ever read–but something stood out in this synopsis and I was excited to get the opportunity to read it and all that was before I knew it was an Aussie. I think it was the hints at magical realism–missing girls, and outcast girls and beautiful midnight blue dresses sewn by supposed local witches– that was SO appealing to me. Now throw in the fact that it’s written by an Aussie (we all know how incredible they all seem to be) and set in Australia and we have the makings of a fantastic read.
And guess what? It was. But what was even more fantastic were the surprises. Like how literary it read. Or how it feels like it could be written for both young adults and adults. And, for me, something that really stood out was the fact that it is set, not in the more populous, urban settings of Sydney or Melbourne, but in a rural setting near Cairns, Queensland. Queensland; the northern part of the continent, bordering the ocean and filled with jungles, cane farms and rocky seaside cliffs.
I LOVED this about The Midnight Dress. I loved the steamy, overgrown, wet setting of bush and cane fields. I have read Melina Marchetta and Kirsty Eagar and Cath Crowley with their gritty, raw city settings but in Foxlee’s books it was just the opposite. It was small town life, where everyone knows everyone and is all up in their business all the time. And I loved all the incredibly mysterious, exotic, FOREIGN flora and fauna that Foxlee writes about. It played a big role in this book, and really made an impression on me.
I also loved that it’s a story within a story–a style that I will probably never tire of in the books that I read. The book jumps back and forth in time. We read about protagonist Rose, the outcast, the drifter teen with the drifter/ alcoholic father, and then we read about the after–the events following a terrible event–the disappearance? the murder? of a yet-to-be-identified girl in the small town of Leonora.
But we also get the story of the local seamstress Edie, the woman Rose commissions to sew a dress for a local formal, and it’s Edie’s stories that absolutely captivated me. I have a soft spot for books that involve sewing, quilting, weaving– I think it is because my grandmother was accomplished at crocheting, and it was always an important part of my life growing up with her. Rose and Edie eventually form a bond–magic in it’s own right because Rose is as distant as closed off as they come. I loved the interactions between these two characters, as their trust and affection for each other grew. It is definitely my favorite part of this story.
I don’t want to talk too much about the ins and outs of the book. It is a suspense and a mystery wrapped up in a coming of age story, and I think it is best to go into it NOT knowing a whole lot beforehand. But the writing drew me in and the story kept me engaged. The Midnight Dress is definitely one of those books that you will think about long after you’ve finished reading. It is a standalone (so far as I know) and while not all loose ends are tied up–it felt to me like it concluded well. There is a twist at the very, very end that had me smiling and wondering about these characters and their future.
So, in summation: do you love Aussie writers and books? Do you love mystery and suspense? Are you a fan of YA that straddles the line and almost reads like an adult work of fiction? Do you love literary writing, writing that definitely sets a mood and has a distinct tone? Then you should pick The Midnight Dress up and give it a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it:)