The Girl Who Never Was, by Skylar Dorset

Have you been following my recent reviews? Good, then you know about the book reading event I went to with my daughters. I bought each of them a book, and two out of three kids chose books that intrigued me. I’m not saying the third’s choice didn’t—in fact, I enjoyed the passage that the author read aloud—but it didn’t hook me the same way the other two did (reviews here & here).

Well you know what? That particular daughter is the one that most reminds me of my pre-teen self. She’s the one who’ll watch Doctor Who with me. Why should I be surprised that her chosen book turned out to be the one of the three that I enjoyed the most?

First off, look at that beautiful cover. It’s awesome, and it fits the story perfectly, and I’m completely mesmerized by it. Enchanted by it. Okay, gotta remember to keep breathing. Now to interior stuff.

Selkie Stewart lives with her old (of indeterminable age) aunts True and Virtue on Beacon Hill, Boston. They have idiosyncrasies such as repositioning the furniture by fractions of an inch because the gnomes have moved it. Her father, who may or may not be crazy, is in a mental hospital, and she has never known anything about her mother except that “One day, [Selkie’s] father walked into his Back Bay apartment to find a blond woman asleep on his couch.” (Awesome opening sentence, by the way.) Meanwhile, Selike is crushing on an attractive, witty, but mysterious boy Ben (I won’t name him further) who sells souvenirs, particularly sweatshirts, on Boston Common. It’s her birthday, and everything is otherwise seemingly normal in her life.

Until it isn’t.

After learning Ben is somehow involved in the sudden strangeness around her, she confronts him. Weird things start to happen—so weird that the only safe place is in the Park Street T (subway) Station. Having been there many times, it’s seemingly an odd choice. They get inside at the last possible second before everyone and everything else disappears. It turns out that Selkie is a faerie, and not just any faerie but the Fay of the Autumnal Equinox—one of four faeries that are prophesied to overthrow the Seelie faeries ruling the Otherworld. Or not. Ben had cast an enchantment over her to hide and protect her, but she broke through it, so he has to think on his feet to save her. After all, she trusts him. But should she?

I don’t want to say much more about the plot of this book because (a) I don’t want to spoil it, and (b) I’m still waffling back and forth on my interpretation of certain details. That makes it sound like some of it doesn’t make sense—and some of it doesn’t—but that’s part of the story’s overall charm and brilliance. The book is told in Selkie’s first-person present-tense narration, and she doesn’t have a full clue about what’s going on. The reader is right there with Selkie at all times, and it was (or it is?) a rollicking fun ride.

For example, Selkie has a habit of arbitrarily picking up items and stuffing them in her pockets. Any careful reader will figure out that some subset of these objects will prove useful later. But as I thought more about this detail, I couldn’t decide if it was an endearing quirk or her latent faerie powers guiding her. Could be either. Could be both. Could be neither. Could be I’m overthinking, but I don’t care. It works either way. The double meanings and different possible interpretations of details and events made this story come to life in ways I didn’t expect. Really good ways, that have lasted for days. Or minutes. Or years.

Also, there’s the setting. I grew up outside of Boston, and I went to college in Boston, so I know Boston. My home city was vividly described and used effectively and in unexpected ways. Anyone who has been anywhere near Park Street Station can relate to the Green Line being bad—in a crowded and sputtery way—but this story’s unique kind of badness for the Green Line made me both chuckle and wonder. The use of Boston as a safe haven for magical beings in the Thisworld was adorable and fun.

My only quibble—because as a reviewer I have to have one—is the final chapter. By then, the main conflict of the story is nicely resolved with enough left open for the second part. However, Ben’s attitude takes an unexpected change, although I understand he has clear reasons and it’s a springboard into the sequel. I have every intention of reading the next part, The Boy with the Hidden Name, but it was a little jarring to leave him and Selike on that kind of cliffhanger.

However, that minor issue isn’t enough to break my enchantment for this delightful and irreverent tale, even as I name the book FIVE STARS.

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The Girl Who Never Was is available at Amazon.

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