11:30 am EST, November 7, 2017

‘The November Girl’ by Lydia Kang book review: A beautiful tale of magical realism

Lydia Kang’s The November Girl is a beautifully written and entrancing story of love, survival and acceptance.

About ‘The November Girl’

I am Anda, and the lake is my mother. I am the November storms that terrify sailors and sink ships. With their deaths, I keep my little island on Lake Superior alive.

Hector has come here to hide from his family until he turns eighteen. Isle Royale is shut down for the winter, and there’s no one here but me. And now him.

Hector is running from the violence in his life, but violence runs through my veins. I should send him away, to keep him safe. But I’m half human, too, and Hector makes me want to listen to my foolish, half-human heart. And if I do, I can’t protect him from the storms coming for us.

The November Girl

‘The November Girl’ book review

I read The November Girl in one sitting, curled up next to my dog on a sleepy Saturday afternoon.

I hadn’t meant to do such a thing. What I’d meant to do that Saturday afternoon was get started on book, then take a break to do the requisite adulting that generally encompasses my Saturday afternoons — grocery shopping, laundry doing, floor sweeping.

Instead, I fell headfirst into the dark and dreamy world of Lydia Kang’s The November Girl, re-emerging only when I had gotten to the very last page (and my dog’s cries for dinner became too loud to ignore).

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That’s the kind of magical, gorgeous story Lydia Kang has crafted within these pages.

It’s a novel told in alternating perspectives — Hector, a runaway who’s looking to hide out on the deserted Isle Royale until he turns 18 and can be free of his uncle, and Anda, a strange slip of a girl who’s half human, half witch.

While this storytelling tactic can sometimes feel blurred and muddied in the hands of less gifted writers, Kang is such talented storyteller that not only are both characters given their own unique journeys, they likewise have distinct narrative voices that complement their character and narrative journey.

Anda’s story is dreamier, almost lyrical in its telling — the story of a girl who sometimes forgets what it means to be human, who is as fluid and mysterious as the lake which birthed her.

“Careful” is such a strange word. To be full of care, overflowing with sentiment. The nature of care is solely for those with whole hearts to give. The word is an antonym to everything I am now, and my father’s words are a strangled wish, rather than a warm farewell.

Hector’s story is more grounded, rooted in pain and uncertainty — the story of a boy fleeing from violence, who understands home only as an ache in his chest.

She’s trying to guess what I am. Not who, but what. I’m some crooked puzzle piece that bothers them. Indian! No, Native? Oh, wait — Hapa, right? The lady studies the angles and colors of my face — pieces of my parents. I hardly recognize which parts belong to whom anymore. As if ownership ever mattered to either of them.

Yet as different as they are, together their stories also converge into one central narrative, which is part adventure story, part love story. Together, both teens try and learn to accept who they are and what has made them — their past, their parentage, their darkest secrets.

For Anda, this means coming to terms with both sides of her — the human side and the magical side; for Hector, a biracial Korean-Black American, this means bringing to light the dangerous and painful truth of why he ran away from his uncle in the first place.

It’s a beautifully written story that doesn’t shy away from darkness or pain (in fact, I do want to note that there are mentions of sexual abuse as well as very brief, very limited depictions of self-harm early in the story), but also does not mire itself in them. It recognizes that who we are is what we’re made of, yes — but also is what we choose for ourselves.

Ultimately, it is a story of learning what it can take to feel whole and what it means to be human, and how complicated and painful and beautiful that can be all at once.

The November Girl is a magnetic, magical read, and one that should absolutely be on your November to-read list.

The November Girl by Lydia Kang is out now! Get your copy today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local indie bookstore and make sure to add it to your Goodreads!

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