I’m not usually one for cover buys. I let a beautiful/ugly cover capture or remove my attention, but I won’t every buy a book just because it looks nice. That said, Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke was a close call. I was relieved to be so interested in the premise and reviews I found about this book, because the cover was definitely tempting enough on its own.
About the book: Wink is one of seven children who live in a big farmhouse two miles outside of town. Nothing ever bothers her, and though her peers think her weird, she’s unfailingly patient and kind. Poppy is the bully who’s determined to flap the unflappable Wink, and to win back her boyfriend. She treated him like dirt too, but he was her dirt and she won’t let him go until she’s done with him. Midnight is the unlucky boy who was in love with Poppy for a year and finally broke things off by moving out of town. Two miles isn’t quite far enough to be rid of Poppy, though, and now that he’s living next to Wink, it’s easier for her to target them both. A nearby house that’s been abandoned and is supposedly haunted sees the worst of the battle between the three, and none of them will ever be the same.
The hook for this story is printed on the cover: “A hero. A villain. A liar. Who’s who?” Personally, this was enough for me to pick up the book. I love stories in which the reader is able to feel close with the characters and still be uncertain about who they are.
“All the strangest stories are true.”
This book certainly is strange. I wouldn’t quite call it magical, but certainly many aspects seem unreal. People disappear without a trace for no apparent reason. Violence and cruelty are common and often overlooked. Parents are absent. Children with a home and a mother are referred to as Orphans. Girls who look nothing alike dress in matching striped socks and appear to be twins. Every name is quirky and unquestioned. (My favorite character is Leaf, who, unfortunately, is a central character without first-person narration.)
And yet I’m not sure I would quite call it atmospheric, either. There are plentiful descriptions, and the place feels as alive as the people who inhabit it, but much of the elaborate language is used to describe emotion. The writing is very visceral, very blunt and unashamed of revealing the best and worst of every character. The plot is sporadic at best, but the level of detail with which each scene and event is described is meticulous. Metaphorical phrases are presented in oddly literal ways.
“I was sixteen and I wasn’t sure I had a heart, until it f***ing broke in two, ripped shreds and veins and blood everywhere.”
At heart, Wink Poppy Midnight is a study in character. From the beginning and throughout much of the book, the lines between hero and villain and liar are clearly drawn, but by the end of the story no one fits into the space that has been carved out for them. Perhaps the ultimate message of the book is that everyone has a little hero/villain/liar in them. Everyone changes with time. Each of these characters will surprise the reader as expected roles are broken.
“She was scared. She was genuinely scared. I wanted to take her hand and lead her back outside. I wanted to walk her home, and tuck her into bed, and make her feel safe. But I couldn’t. I was the hero.”
Although I couldn’t find a clear plot to carry me through the story with a major question or point of intrigue, everything did lead to one climactic moment and its dissolution gave the story its purpose. Despite the lack of sequential plot points, the characters and the odd nature of both the setting and the narration keep the reader moving forward with curiosity. The characters are extremes, almost more symbolic than realistically visual, but they are, nonetheless, compelling. There’s a little something in each of them for the reader to identify with.
“I thought of myself so little that I began to worry that I’d been the only thing keeping myself in existence…and now that I wasn’t the center of my attention I’d disappear, poof into thin air, and no one would ever know.”
My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. Despite several aspects I particularly enjoyed about this book, its lack of a driving plot and the unreality of it all kept me from becoming fully invested in this story. I found the characters intriguing, the descriptions colorful, and the short chapters easily readable, and yet I had to coax myself to keep reading. If this book hadn’t been so small I might not have made it through. Wink Poppy Midnight made some great points about character and went about making them in an interesting way, but it lacked the spark of excitement that would have made it great for me.
- If the quirky presentation of this story is the most appealing aspect for you, try Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, a more clearly plotted novel that begins a wonderfully odd and fantastic series featuring a group of misfits on an epic quest for a dead king in a magical town.
- If the characters of this story are the element that calls to you, try The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis. Also narrated from three first-person perspectives including two girls and a boy, this book focuses on danger brewing in a small town and the interconnected lives of the incomparable teens who come closest to it.
What’s next: I’m currently reading Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, the first book in the Grisha trilogy. I’m planning to read all of the Grishaverse books this year and I’m getting my start this month with Bardugo’s first YA fantasy novel. So far I’m loving the characters and their experiences with the “small science,” and I can’t wait to see what happens with the Darkling. With a name like that he must be evil, but… he hides it well. I think I’ll finish this book tonight because I’m absolutely hooked!
Have you read any of the Grisha books? I hear they just keep getting better.
The Literary Elephant