November 07, 2013

The strange charms of a most unusual dress

By Karen Foxlee
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Will you forgive me if I tell you the ending? There’s a girl . . .”

So begins Karen Foxlee’s new young adult novel, a web of prose as lush and mysterious as the story’s Australian setting. Fifteen-year-old Rose Lovell and her alcoholic father drift into a trailer park in the beach town of Leonora. Moving to a new place is something they’ve done many times before, so Rose doesn’t expect anything to be different. Then she meets Pearl Kelly, who almost immediately begins to wear her down with unexpected kindness.

Dynamic and irresistible, Pearl sweeps Rose into her plans for the Harvest Parade, where all the girls wear beautiful dresses at the town’s celebration of the sugar cane harvest. At first Rose can’t imagine taking part. “Rose Lovell does not wear dresses. Rose Lovell does not need friends. Yet all she can smell, even with the huge sky and the evening storm clouds brewing, is coconut oil and frangipani.”

Unable to afford a dress, Rose visits the old dressmaker, Edie Baker, who is rumored to be a “dabbler in the dark arts.”  Here she falls in love with a dress, the color of midnight blue, which, under Edie’s tutelage, is painstakingly taken apart and made anew. On the night of the parade, Edie gives Rose some blue slippers, and Rose, transformed, decides, “I am someone else.”

In the end, though, this is no Cinderella tale. With rich, evocative language, Foxlee threads together a complex tale of friendship, murder and betrayal. The Midnight Dress is compelling, heartbreaking and, most of all, impossible to put down.

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The Midnight Dress

The Midnight Dress

By Karen Foxlee
ISBN 9780375856457

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