The Midnight Dress
by Karen Foxlee
High School Knopf 281 pp.
10/13 978-0-375-85645-7 $16.99
Library ed. 978-0-375-95645-4 $19.99
e-book ed. 978-0-449-81821-3 $9.99
Self-contained, morose fifteen-year-old Rose and her alcoholic father arrive in Australian beach town Leonora, and it seems like they may actually stay put for a spell, for once. Rose enrolls in school and is immediately befriended by Pearl, who’s very different — outgoing, luminously pretty, an optimistic dreamer. Pearl tells Rose about the annual harvest festival and urges her to start thinking about a gown to wear. Enter the enigmatic Edie Baker, an old dressmaker in a keepsake-overrun house who’s rumored to be a witch. Edie agrees to help Rose make her dress, and a hesitant friendship blossoms from Edie’s storytelling sessions disguised as sewing lessons. Though ostensibly the tale of a magical midnight-blue dress, there are many story lines within Foxlee’s complex novel: Pearl and Rose’s close but strained friendship; the girls’ tip-toeing into their own sexual relationships; Edie Baker’s sad history; the powerful lure of the neighboring mountain, described vividly and mystically; Rose’s relationship with her impenetrable father and Pearl’s tireless search for her own one-night-stand dad; and also, importantly, the narration (in italics opening each chapter) of the investigation into the tragedy that befalls one of the girls. Though the layers are many, they coalesce into a dreamlike, eerie whole told in mesmerizing, sensuous prose.
From the January/February 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.