The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee

Released on 30 January 2013 through UQP

336 pages

ISBN 9780702249648

RRP $29.95

Rose Lovell is used to moving around a lot. Her life with her father has followed a fairly similar pattern over the years: they will arrive and for a while her father will stay off the drink; until one day he won’t, and then they will pack up and move and start the whole process again. Rose has learnt not to become comfortable. She has learnt not to become attached to people or places, so as to avoid constant disappointment. But this time, in a small north Queensland sugarcane town aptly named Paradise, things are different.

Rose’s father isn’t drinking. Working as a banana picker, it seems Mr Lovell has found an admirer in the woman who manages the caravan park the Lovell’s are living in. Rose too is acting differently. Despite her best efforts to be guarded and cold, her classmate Pearl Kelly has worn down Rose’s barriers and the two girls have grown close–and yet Rose always keeps Pearl at a certain distance. Pearl and her friends convince Rose to take part in the town’s annual Harvest Parade– but Rose’s father can not afford the extravagance of her classmates’ dresses, so she forms an unlikely friendship with Edie Baker, a local seamstress. As Edie teaches Rose the fine art of dressmaking, she tells Rose the story of her family and their association with the hidden cabin on the mountain. Though hesitant at first, Rose gets swept up in the magic and the romance of the mountain. But infatuation and obsession can be dangerous–one of the girls will not live to see the sun rise after the Harvest Parade.

The way this book is written makes it virtually impossible to put down. Foxlee uses two alternating narratives and moves between the current investigation into the disappearance of the girl in the midnight dress, and the events that occurred in the lead up to the Harvest Parade.  This foreshadowing effect is genius–before the reader meets Rose, Pearl, and the other characters, they are immediately informed that one of the local girls is missing. Foxlee knows just how much to give readers before switching to the past events, and I found myself desperate to keep reading and find out what had happened. But this isn’t your usual mystery/thriller novel. Foxlee’s prose is lyrical and beautiful and her talents as a gifted storyteller are on full display here.

This story is about more than a missing girl in a beautiful dress. It’s about broken people and shattered families. It’s about love and the many different forms it can take. It’s about growing up and dealing with the consequences of your actions. It’s an exquisitely written coming of age story about dealing with the disappointment of reality and finding the courage and strength to keep moving forward. It’s a wonderful tale from a fantastic Australian author and it really should not be missed.

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