Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Published: March 2016 by Dial Books
Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.
Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.
What really happened?
Someone is lying.
With characters named Wink, Poppy, and Midnight I knew this story was not going to be ordinary. It wasn't wholly new or unlike anything I had read before, but it was woven with a captivating tone and feeling. It's something more often found outside mainstream YA literature and it felt nicely refreshing. It's an October, autumnal read so I think I read it at just the right time. The intrigues are small and personal, the sense of the eerie is the kind that lives inside all of us. Not everyone will enjoy the writing style, and at times I found it a bit too precocious, but in the end I was entranced by the mythical mystery of three ordinary teenagers.
A Brief Note on the Lack of Stars: I have decided not to use star ratings for book reviews. I found them to be wholly arbitrary. I was only giving three or four stars. I just don't tend to review something I really hated and I only give 5 stars to an all-time favourite, which doesn't come around all that often. Not particularly helpful. If I do find a new favourite, I'll just make it clear as I rave in the review. Hopefully my reviews show a good idea of how much I enjoyed a book, but more interesting to me is getting into the nuts and bolts of a novel to see how it works at a textual level, what questions it brings up and how successfully it explores various different themes. So those are the things I discuss in my book reviews. Stars don't add much to that discussion.
This is very likely to be a love or hate book for many people. For me, I landed in the middle. It was one of those books that had me furrowing my brow in several places, sighing in exasperation, but still turning the pages. And I was also pausing in several places to appreciate the beautiful words and the strangely captivating atmosphere.
This story relies on several tropes that I have some mixed feelings for - Midnight as the sensitive, artistic teenage boy having a personal awakening through his relationship with a mysterious girl; Poppy as the anti-manic pixie dream girl who is cruel but beautiful; Wink as the waifish, weird girl from the free-spirited family with too many children. These are overdone tropes, but I have a bit of a soft-spot for them.
Ultimately I could tell that Tucholke wanted to comment on the tropes, to give a new reading to the clichés. She was at least partially successful as the ending and the fairy tale setting twisted the tropes around enough that I came away from the story without feeling sick of any of the precociousness. There were times when hipster-ness of the town was just laugh out loud funny, and it worked very well to blur the lines of fantasy and reality, normality and the ideal. The idea of an overly-hipster town as a modern setting for a dark fairy tale is perfect. The 'hipster' lifestyle ultimately exploits nostalgia and affected aesthetics. This kind of overly curated lifestyle borders the stylised magical-realism that allows fairy tales to feel both of our world and fantastical.
This is the novel's biggest strength. The plot itself is fairly unremarkable, but that in and of itself is not a weakness given the way Tucholke weaves these themes of fantasy and idealisation with darkly human emotions. The twisty human emotions mixed with the hints at the supernatural places the story within the realm of gothic literature. There is a feeling woven throughout the story of something eerie and ominous, something rotten in this picture-perfect world of precious quirkiness.
In the end this story is all about atmosphere and genre. If you're looking for a compelling plot or close character study, this might not be the book for you. I found the story to be intriguing, all the more so because of the stylisation. I'm curious to read Tucholke's Between the Devil and the Dark Blue Sea novels to see how well she can direct her beautiful words to a more plot-driven gothic horror story.
I can definitely recommend Wink Poppy Midnight for anyone looking for a unique autumnal read. It's perfect for an evening in need of a one-sitting read to go along with a cup of tea, perhaps when its rainy and cold outside and you're ready to appreciate an eerie atmosphere.