The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee
University of Queensland Press, 2013. ISBN 9780702249648.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Rose Lovell has moved from town to town with her alcoholic father and wonders if life will be different tin the small sugarcane town where they live in a caravan. When she meets pretty and popular Pearl Kelly, she feels that she might have a friend at last. Pearl persuades her to go into the Harvest Parade and for this she needs a special dress. She finds Edie Baker, a strange dressmaker who helps her make a dress of midnight blue and who introduces her to the mountain and the bush nearby. Then everything changes when a teenage girl disappears.
Foxlee writes in a compelling manner keeping up the suspense until the very last page. Her plotting is complex and clever. From the first page the reader knows that someone has gone missing but is uncertain about who it is. The story progresses on two levels: one chapter written in italics, tells about the disappearance of the girl, the next is told from Rose's point of view as she comes to term with life in the insular country town and befriends Edie the eccentric dressmaker. Rose doesn't have an easy life, her father's moods are up and down and she finds it difficult to fit in. The themes of love and anger, of fitting in and making friends are woven between the mystery of the girl's disappearance.
This is a haunting, beautiful and literary story told on many levels. There is the friendship between Rose and Pearl who is searching for her long lost Russian father. The odd bookseller who is teased by Pearl and Rose's relationship with her father and the young boy who admires her are fully developed. Edie's story is heart-breaking as well.
The language is lyrical. The descriptions of the Australian bush, the tall trees, rocky waterfall and sweeping beaches bring this Queensland area to life and provide an atmospheric background to the story.
This is a complex, haunting story and I look forward to reading more from this author.