Right now, the master of surrealism for teens is Nova Ren Suma. For those unfamiliar with surrealism, it can be an acquired taste. Itís not quite realistic fiction and itís not quite fantasy or paranormal. Her books leave you with more questions than answers, and you may feel the story was dreamed rather than read. Suma says she was inspired by magical realism, which is a genre that introduces magical elements into an otherwise normal world. This isnít the magic of Harry Potter, but magic that exists at the edges of things. These books arenít fully paranormal, but as a reader you canít shake the feeling that something is amiss. If youíre the kind of reader that likes a solid ending that answers all of your questions, these may not be right for you. If you like open endings and enjoy the psychological heebie-jeebies, then you are in for a treat.
Nova Ren Sumaís YA debut, Imaginary Girls, was released in the summer of 2011. At its surface, this book is about the relationship between two sisters, our narrator Chloe and her enigmatic sister Ruby. There are parties by a reservoir, cute boys, and interesting new friends; but readers will quickly discover that things are not what they appear. The first oddity is the reappearance of a girl who drowned two years prior, but Chloe is the only one who seems to remember. There are also the stories Ruby tells about the former residents of Olive, a town flooded when the reservoir was built. Are the former residents still living beneath the water? This book isnít a traditional paranormal thriller, but it is certainly unsettling. There is a dreamy quality to Sumaís writing and this novel is unlike anything I have encountered in YA.
ďRubyís stories didnít have morals. They meant one thing in the light and one thing in the dark and another thing entirely when she was wearing sunglasses.Ē
Sumaís most recent novel is 17 & Gone . The narrator, Lauren, is haunted by girls who disappeared the year they turned 17. Police never fully investigated the disappearances because it was believed the girls ran away willingly, but Lauren knows better. The missing girls keep appearing in her car, in her room, on the side of the road; and they want her to find out what really happened to them. The book is a mix of mystery, ghost story, and psychological thriller. There is a bit more action than in Imaginary Girls, but the same unsettling atmosphere remains. Determining what is real and what is just in Laurenís head may be the focus, but the real horror of the novel is why no one cared to investigate after the girls went missing.
ďI was 17. I was a girl. Didn't we matter?Ē
ďHow heartless it was for a girl to be forgotten and buried before there was even anything of her to put in the ground."
-Ruth Houston, Youth Services, Teen Underground, Main Library