Note: this article was also published on SciFi4Me.com.
The Girl Who Never Was, by Skylar Dorset. Published 2014 by Sourcebooks Fire. 304 pages, ISBN 978-1402292538. Buy at Amazon.com.
Young adult fiction has been getting a lot of flak lately. Using many of the same arguments that genre fiction as a whole tends to get, there have been quite a few articles about how it’s not ‘serious’ fiction, with the added criticism that if you’re an adult, you should be ashamed that you read it.
The Girl Who Never Was, a young adult urban fantasy novel by Skylar Dorset, is the type of book I want to throw at pretentious idiots who write such things. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval instead of as a merely descriptive term cannot be adult themselves.” And this book proves that a good book is a good book, regardless of the intended audience.
The first in the Otherworld series, The Girl Who Never Was starts out by putting us in the POV of Selkie Stewart, a young girl living in Boston. We find out that she has never met her mother, and that it is her birthday. When she reveals that she has turned 17 to Ben, a boy she kind of has a crush on, it opens up a world of faerie and magic and fear. You see, she is half-faerie, and her mother wants to kill her.
The quote on the back of the book compares it to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and it’s an apt comparison. Just as Gaiman’s Neverwhere is London re-imagined, with tube stations and famous landmarks used in fantastic ways, The Girl Who Never Was is Boston re-imagined. I’ve never been to Boston, but I feel like I have after reading this book – even when half the plot takes place elsewhere. Dorset also entrenches her world with the life of the fae, and has done her research. Names have meaning, and there is a cost to power. As with Neverwhere, this world has always been there – just out of focus until it is noticed.
“Never trust a faerie.” – The Girl Who Never Was
The plot flows smoothly – it’s an easy read in the best definition of the phrase. I was eager to find out what happened next, and it’s almost a crime that she ends the book on a cliffhanger. The characters are engaging: even though to describe her, Selkie sounds a little too much like a Mary Sue, she never grated on me like ‘too perfect’ characters typically do. She feels and loves and is confused by what is going on, and I empathize with her so much. This might have to do with Dorset’s choice to use first person, helping me remember the horror and wonder of turning 17 and feeling like there should be more to me. You root for her and her side, and want her to save the world and get the boy and end up happily ever after. But it’s not just her – it’s Ben and Selkie’s two unusual aunts and the man at the Salem Which Museum (sic), and they are the types of people you wish were real so you could hang out with them.
Well-told stories are difficult to do. I should know – I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo often enough. Genre fiction is even harder to do, as you at least have to acknowledge the genre tropes even if you are going against them. The Girl Who Never Was is the best of both worlds – a great fantasy story that just happens to be geared towards a younger audience, and is enjoyable regardless of your age.
Dorset’s website has links to a prequel novella and a short story set in the same universe, and the sequel (The Boy With the Hidden Name) will be released December 2.