The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint
This book is a shining example of why I prefer young adult novels to "real fiction" almost any day of the week. The Blue Girl is a very good book, and a very fast read. not to mention extremly engrossing. In a "grown-up" novel, the characters would be too busy worrying about how teenagers are supposed to act to actually be acting so completly like teenagers.
The story jumps around from the first meetings of Imogene and Maxine, two girls who are very different but make fast best friends. The two characters are interesting, and each bring out different aspects of each other. The only flaw I find actually is that while Maxine's mother is a tyrant who developes other aspects to her personality, Imogene's mother is often "the perfect mom" and that gets old.
You can count her mother to always say the right thing, have the right attitude, and react the right way. While Imogene complains about her, most of the complaints are "sometimes she drives me crazy but really she's perfect." I wish she had more to her, but I guess with Imogene around there's only room for so much character.
The story takes place in De Lint's often visited world of Newford, a place where our traditional reality and "Otherworld" often intersect. I haven't read most of his other novels, only a few short stories, so some of the recurring characters don't really ring bells with me. So I admit spending half the book going "I wonder if this guy has shown up somewhere else and that's why he's written this way." There's a distinct way a character gets written if they've shown up in another book, a "cameo technique" I guess. I've never liked it.
But the story is what drives this book, and it's a good one. There's a ghost with a crush, some faeries that aren't really faeries, soul-sucking shadows, and an imaginary friend that stops being so imaginary. It's urban fantasy, and it's done well.
Maxine is actually my favorite character, even though Imogene is technically the one the story is focused on.
It's a great, light, easy, story. There aren't any deep, profound life lessons and the very fabric of the universe itself isn't in danger. But the girl's have a large challenge to face, and it changes them. In the end, that's what good storytelling is.
I actually want these characters to come back in another story, because I think Imogene could use more development. While she was very intersting, and well-rounded, she also needs a few more flaws besides "I have a dark past." Maxine's relationship with her mother could only get more interesting, and now that the girls know and interact with Otherworld, I think they'd be great eyes to view it through. They're teenagers, irreverent in their own way.
Once, when I was trying to read another De Lint book, I started to think his way of writing was almost too difficult for me to just read on an afternoon when I'm bored. Sometimes, I'm just not in the mood for something that requires too much brain power, or is written too "scholarly." This book is exactly the type of thing I wanted, and I'm very glad I found it.
Bonus: the cover is really gorgeous.