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.
I will admit that my initial interest in The Midnight Dress was based solely on the book’s very pretty cover. I was immediately taken in by the girl in the gorgeous dress falling through the air, surrounded by trees. It looked haunting and different, and I was instantly hooked. This interest was further piqued by the summary, which sounded completely original and different than your standard YA. I figured it would be a good Halloween-type read, and while I may have read it nearly one month after said holiday, I was pretty much right, even though the book itself takes place in April and May. This was a book that I found extremely hard to put down.
I do want to say that I had a really hard time placing the time and setting this book takes place in. This book is written by an Aussie author, and therefore takes place in Australia, in a tiny town in Queensland. The year is also not immediately obvious; it isn’t until the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster is mentioned that the year becomes apparent (1986, in case you are like me and couldn’t remember exactly when the explosion occurred). What I loved the most about The Midnight Dress, though, is that the fact this book takes place in a country that I am really quite unfamiliar with didn’t matter, because the description of the town and surrounding rain forest and mountains was done so splendidly that I could picture the scenery in my mind. I especially loved the depictions of Evie’s rambling house, filled to the brim with old things others would toss out in a heartbeat, and falling down around her. It was interesting to see how initially, Rose is very much pointing out how weird and unusual Evie’s home is, but the more time she spends with Evie, the more gentle and soft her descriptions become.
There is a lot going on in this book. Rose is our main character, and she takes a bit of getting to know, because she’s quite rough around the edges due to living her entire life on the road with her father, traveling around the country. Rose is befriended by Pearl, and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Pearl is your basic girly-girl, who’s a dreamer. Rose is much more down to earth, and doesn’t want to put down any roots because she knows she’ll just be leaving again. I loved the way they became friends, and the way Pearl pulled Rose out of her shell. While their friendship isn’t perfect, their ups and downs felt familiar and realistic, which I personally appreciated a lot. The dress of the title comes into play thanks to the annual parade, and it’s because of the dress that the reader gets to meet Evie. While Rose is our narrator, this story is really telling two stories: that of present-day Rose, and that of Evie’s past. I loved the way the stories were melded together and weaved perfectly to form a coherent narrative that absolutely pulled me in and kept me turning pages.
The Midnight Dress was quite different from anything I’ve read in recent memory. It had shades of Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone with the different manner of storytelling, but while I didn’t love Amelia Anne, I can thoroughly say I adored The Midnight Dress. I would definitely recommend you give this mix of history and magical realism a shot. I doubt you’ll be disappointed in the end result!