Author: Justine Larbalestier (How to Ditch Your Fairy)
Publisher: Soho Teen
The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.
Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.
Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.
When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living . . .
I’m always surprised when I remember that I’ve only read four Justine Larbalestier books so far – it feels like I’ve read so many more, probably because I first read her Magic or Madness trilogy a while ago and have since reread them at least two or three times. As a result, I don’t think I ever really know what to expect from her books, and that was definitely the case here. I often feel like I know her from her Twitter feed and such, but her books are still interesting enigmas to me.
I definitely felt unsure at the beginning of this book – what was I getting myself into? Was this a paranormal book, historical, something else? I wanted to put it into a box, but I don’t think this story can truly fit in a box. I wanted to know how old the two narrating protagonists were so that I categorize it based on their age, but it didn’t fit into that box either. As a result, I think the beginning was slightly uneven and slow for me simply because I wasn’t sure what to think of the story.
I had read the summary when I first heard about the book and when I finally got ahold of it, but I kind of forgot what it had said, so that certainly added to its sense of mystery. I know some people prefer it that way, but I’m the type of person who likes having at least a little idea of what’s going on, so it confused me a little bit – but that’s completely on me, and not the book.
Kelpie and Dymphna are the two protagonists – one is an orphan who’s spent most of her life on the streets being helped and haunted by ghosts (Kelpie), the other is a wealthy and relatively comfortable but interested in getting more power prostitute (Dymphna). If you’re put off by Dymphna’s profession, don’t worry – it’s something that isn’t really referred to a lot and is relatively vague, which I think works best for the YA age group. I’m not really sure what I thought of them – I wanted them to succeed and help each other out, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I really connected with them. Same with many of the secondary characters – I found them interesting, but I’m not sure I got enough of them to form a proper opinion.
This book takes place in the 1920s in Australia, in a very rough part of town (I don’t remember which town, though, but definitely one of the larger cities); many of the characters come from poor, struggling backgrounds, and Kelpie is (probably) biracial and had a parent who either came from Africa or was an Aboriginal. They’re small details, but even those small details are better than another story about white, upper-middle-class protagonists.
The Adult Situation
Kelpie is an orphan and, despite her young age, Dymphna acts like and is mostly treated as an adult, so there isn’t a big adult presence. Two of the main adult characters are the warring leaders of the razor gangs, so they definitely aren’t the type you can really rely on.
I guess there was kind of a small romance, but it was a very small thing and was mostly glossed over, and I think it probably could have been done away with completely, especially considering the ending (don’t worry, no spoilers!). I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t really necessary, and I’m really glad that it didn’t get too much focus.
The ending seemed a little rushed. The closer I got to the ending, the more I was wondering how everything was going to get wrapped up. As a result, the ending seemed a bit abrupt, which threw me a bit.
I feel like I complained about a lot of things, but they were all mostly small things, and I really did enjoy this book. It was a nice paranormal(ish) standalone, which there aren’t many of in YA, so that was a nice change. I continue to enjoy Larbalestier’s stories and definitely look forward to seeing what she writes next.