The November Girl
There are tons of young adult romances out there featuring vampires, werewolves, and dark Fae creatures, and while I love those, I’ve recently found myself in the mood for something a little different. Enter The November Girl, a book with a unique premise, diverse principals, and a ton of weighty issues. As soon as I saw it was available for review, I jumped at the chance to read it.
Anda may look human on the outside, but she’s anything but a normal girl. Day by day, she’s losing her humanity. She no longer remembers life’s simple pleasures like the sweetness of strawberry jam or the softness of her favorite sweater. In fact, she only feels truly alive when a storm is brewing. You see, Anda’s mother is an elemental being and her father is a mortal man who is forced to live in fear of his daughter’s changing nature.
Anda lives with her father on Isle Royale, a small island off Lake Superior that becomes uninhabitable every November due to the severe storms that can appear without warning. Anda’s father knows his daughter feeds off these storms, but that’s not nearly as frightening to him as the fact that she steals life force from the sailors who perish as a result. He longs for her to be different, but he’s pretty much given up hope of this ever coming to pass. So every year, on the last day of October, he departs for the mainland, promising to return in December. Anda doesn’t seem to take much notice of his absence. All she feels is the static electricity of the impending storms and the uncontrollable pull the lake has on both her body and her spirit.
Hector doesn’t care about the legends surrounding Isle Royale. All he cares about is the fact that the island is deserted every winter. If he can manage to sneak onto the island as everyone else is leaving, he figures he can hide out there until the spring by which time he’ll have turned eighteen. He’ll be away from his abusive uncle, and just maybe he’ll be able to make a new life for himself somewhere else. He knows it won’t be easy, but anything is better than the hell he’s endured since his parents split up and he was abandoned by both of them with only his alcoholic uncle to look after him.
Hector and Anda meet on the island, and each is immediately fascinated by the other. Hector has never met anyone quite like Anda. She possesses amazing amounts of knowledge about the island’s history, but she seems completely unable to care for herself. She walks around the island in her nightgown despite the inclement weather, and she seems incapable of preparing an edible meal. For reasons he doesn’t completely understand, Hector finds himself wanting desperately to protect her.
Anda isn’t sure what to make of Hector. Her failing grasp of human thought makes it difficult for her to understand why she’s drawn to him. She has the sense he’s hiding from someone or something, and she’s seen him cut himself on several occasions, but she’s unable to piece these things together into anything that makes sense. She only knows she wants to spend time with him, but what if her desire to be with him ends up costing him his life?
The story is told in alternating chapters from both Hector’s and Anda’s points of view. The author does a great job showing us what it was like for Anda to live in a world she finds increasingly difficult to understand, but it doesn’t always make for easy reading and I found her chapters to be confusing sometimes, due to the very fragmented nature of her thoughts. Hector’s chapters aren’t exactly straightforward either. We learn a lot about him through flashbacks, and I sometimes found the transitions between past and present to be a little jarring.
Hector and Anda are alone together on Isle Royale for most of the story, and I sometimes found myself wishing for other people to kind of break things up a bit. There’s not a lot of dialogue here, since Anda isn’t a huge talker, and parts of the story drag because of this. We spend a lot of time in the characters’ minds, and while this helps the reader get to know them, it can sometimes feel overly heavy and drawn out.
If you’re looking for a straight up romance, The November Girl isn’t the book for you. It’s obvious there’s something between Hector and Anda, but both of them have a lot going on, and neither is at all ready to enter into a relationship. Anda is fighting against her deep desire to give herself over to the lake and its storms, and Hector is trying to figure out where he’ll go after leaving the island. They exchange a few kisses, and Anda seems to want more than that, but Hector isn’t willing to take things further since he’s not sure she really understands what it means to enter into a physical relationship with another person. I was pleased to see the issue of consent dealt with with such sensitivity since it often gets kind of glossed over in today’s young adult novels.
The November Girl isn’t a perfect story, but I really enjoyed the time I spent in Ms. Kang’s world. She manages to put a unique spin on some all-too familiar issues, and offers up a novel unlike anything I’ve read in recent years. She incorporates elements of horror and magical realism into the story, and I found myself reading faster and faster so I could find out what would happen next. It was a wild, unpredictable ride, and I’m glad I took a chance on Ms. Kang’s work.