This is what fantasy can be. What I absolutely loved, above the gorgeous writing and the haunting quality of the plot, was the way Kang uses fantasy as a metaphorical lens to explore identities that split us apart and cultures which demand us to choose to forsake the other. (Make sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour)
I absolutely love the eeriness of the Goodreads summary:
I am Anda, and the lake is my mother. I am the November storms that terrify sailors and sink ships. With their deaths, I keep my little island on Lake Superior alive. Hector has come here to hide from his family until he turns eighteen. Isle Royale is shut down for the winter, and there’s no one here but me. And now him.
Hector is running from the violence in his life, but violence runs through my veins. I should send him away, to keep him safe. But I’m half human, too, and Hector makes me want to listen to my foolish, half-human heart. And if I do, I can’t protect him from the storms coming for us.
This book was fantastic – not only in the sense of it being wonderful, but also in the fantasy sense. An overt eeriness pervaded the entire book, like an undertow below the surface, as we are introduced to a background of shipwrecks, drowned sailors, and the violence we wreak upon ourselves. I have read quite a great deal of books recently which have been subtly ominous, so I’ve gotten used to things unsaid and darkness creeping in from the shadows, but this book blows those out of the water. There’s a wealth of darkness, but not in a purely mysterious or thrilling way, but in the necessity of death and the insatiable shadows.
Anda’s struggle with her dual nature – human heart and this force of nature – serves as a metaphor for dealing with an identity split in two. This is mirrored in Hector’s struggle to reconcile his Korean mother and his ‘Yankee’ dad, and the ways he doesn’t feel like he belongs with either. These conflicts war out in their hearts on on their skins as both, on different scales, are torn between these warring factions. This resonated so deeply for me, being an adopted Chinese-American – the appearance marking me as something Other, while my upbringing belies my denial of their exoticism.
At the same time, there’s a very relatable plot about love and self-discovery. There’s the dangerous allure of love you cannot get out your head. And yet, at the heart of the love is the question of whether we can love someone who is responsible for destruction? Who has held life in their hands? Wow, this is just such a compelling question in general for both our protagonists who struggle to accept the darkness with the light. It is a crucial question of identity, forgiveness, and sacrifice. We all have this capacity for darkness – the ability to hurt and be cruel – and how do we live with this or strike a bargain with it?
The November Girl is a heart wrenching book that deals with serious issues: identity, damaged families, and violence. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel as these two characters must figure out how to reconcile the sides of their identities in an attempt not to end the war, but to manage compromises and peace treaties. It’s a hard story about secrets and struggle but it has light it has resilient characters who are hurting but strong and who have kind hearts in a world that tells them to be only half of who they are.
Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the publisher.
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About the Author
Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She graduated from Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, completing her residency and chief residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in JAMA, The Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Great Weather for Media. She believes in science and knocking on wood, and currently lives in Omaha with her husband and three children.