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The Onion Girl (2002)

The Onion Girl (2002)
4.13 of 5 Votes: 2
0765303817 (ISBN13: 9780765303813)
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The Onion Girl (2002)
The Onion Girl (2002)

About book: I really liked this fantasy book and would recommend it, as well as Charles de Lint’s books in general, to anyone who likes modern-day fantasy, especially if they like books that are character driven and maybe a little slower-paced than other stuff on the market.Despite that, though, this particular book comes with a few strings attached. Not to start with a negative, but I’ll just be up front about it and explain what the strings are.For starters, it would be good to just point out that this book is not YA. I know not everything we review on the blog is YA, but a lot of it is, and de Lint is an author who writes for both teens and adults, so I thought I would make that clear.Now, this isn't me saying, "Don't read it if you're a teen." This is just me saying what market the publisher wanted to put this in. It does probably have slower pacing and older narrators than YA generally has. It also has graphic and implied depctions of violence and sexual abuse that our characters struggle to overcome, which may deter some readers, depending on their age, experience and comfort level.The overall tone of the book is optimistic though, without trivializing the difficulty of the characters’ situations. De Lint has a lot of respect for his characters.Now, there’s still one more string, though totally unrelated to the first. Again, this isn’t something that should necessarily deter you from reading the book, but it might be a turn-off.I have a feeling that people who are familiar with Charles de Lint will already know what I am going to say.The Onion Girl is what fans call one of the Newford books; that means it is a work of fiction that takes place in de Lint’s fictional city of Newford, a place that houses many other stories which take place in a variety of his other books. Each book that I have read so far seems like a strong enough book to stand on its own. The Onion Girl is indeed a stand-alone story, but elements and characters from past books will sometimes slip in and out of future books, and that is very much the case here.I suppose I should have been warned by this part of the book description to go back and read some of the previous books first: “At the center of all the entwined lives of Newford stands a young artist named Jilly Coppercorn, with her tangled hair, her paint-splattered jeans, a smile perpetually on her lips—Jilly, whose paintings capture the hidden beings that dwell in the city’s shadows. Now, at last, de Lint tells Jilly’s own story…”Yeah, okay that should have been a warning bell to go back and read up on some previous stories before I read this book if I wanted to feel really solidly ingrained in the story. But I had previously read The Blue Girl and Little Grrl Lost, which were also Newford books. Both of those novels (which are YA) seemed pretty self-contained, so I didn’t think I would have a much of a problem with this one, either.And I didn’t. At least, not a big problem. But this book felt slightly more disorienting than either of the previous titles I mentioned. Evidently, Jilly is friends with nearly everyone in town. As a result, de Lint introduced lots of characters in this book with names and very short descriptions of their character, like summaries almost. The book expects readers to more or less keep track of them all. The author was good at dropping in reminders about how they fit in with the plot, but as a reader previously unfamiliar with their stories, I still found them a little distracting.It makes sense and fits right in with Jilly’s character for her to know all of these people and for them to visit her in the hospital after her car wreck (this is not a spoiler; it happens right away), though. Maybe these small character moments couldn’t have been avoided. But to be honest, even though de Lint took great care to not make it sound like name-dropping, I still felt slightly alienated as a new reader.For example, Jilly once or twice mentions the fact that her friend, Isabelle, has the ability to paint beings and have them come to life and cause her trouble. It’s a small, offhand, almost irrelevant comment that Jilly states and then lets go away, but it made my reading process come to a screeching halt, distracted. Whoa! That sounds like a big enough story to be it’s own story!Well… that’s because it is.(Apologies for the Amazon link. Someday I promise I will get a Goodreads account and then I will be able to link to books on a website that doesn’t also try to sell you stuff.)Anyway. After I got used to these things, I sort of just wrote them off as quirks of de Lint's world. This fantastical universe is like that: sometimes the characters (and you as a reader) get to experience whole alternate worlds and magnificent magical experiences, and sometimes they (and you) just get to see snippets here and there, mere hints that there is more to the world than just plain-old reality. So ultimately, even though these odd character moments were jarring, they worked in the novel’s favor for me.This novel had all of the strengths I have come to associate with Charles de Lint: A well-developed magical world that hasn’t lost its sense of the mysterious or the whimsical. Strong, well-developed characters. A higher value in emotional truth than rationalityIn this book in particular, I appreciated the nuanced good-versus-evil themes, with the recognition that not everyone gets the privelege to "fight" the evil in their lives, and instead must learn to grow and heal from it in other ways.I’ll also say that I liked it enough to go back and start in on the rest of the Newford books.I can’t believe I only discovered this author a few years ago, and I am surprised I don’t hear about him more. He is clearly very prolific and has been writing for a long time. Urban fantasy/magical realism (this work seems to have elements of both) is a favorite of mine. It’s all over the place in fiction nowadays, but de Lint’s work is still better than some newer stuff I have read, and seems pretty timeless regardless.If you have read this or other of Charles de Lint’s books, I’d love to hear your perspective on them. If not, and if you like urban fantasy, I expect you will probably like this book—unless you have a problem with one of the “strings” attached that I mentioned before. In that case, maybe try checking out his other books first. Start from the beginning, like I didn’t do. Or try one that isn’t so entwined in other stories. I think I would consider The Blue Girl a good introduction; that’s more or less a standalone and I recommend it.

This isn’t a fantasy novel because it takes place half on Earth and half in a Spirit World that exists as a backdrop to all of reality. This isn’t a fantasy novel because it features wolf-headed, shape-shifting original people and crow girls. No, this isn’t a fantasy novel because there are fairies and Native American Earth spirits who share their wisdom. This is a fantasy novel because most of the characters in the story give a shit about each other.That’s right. Pretty far-fetched, huh? de Lint creates a magical world around the main character, Jilly Coppercorn, where she and her extensive collection of (let me say, roughly … ten) friends are almost unbearably sensitive and thoughtful toward each other. I’m not talking about parent-child relationships here or lovers. I’m talking about an extended group of friends who listen to each other, visit each other frequently, and deeply care about each other. Now that’s a goddamn magical world. Do I sound cynical? Wish I lived there.For the first two-thirds of The Onion Girl, I was thoroughly enjoying the writing, and my excitement was building. de Lint seemed to be masterfully shaping the plot and building it toward an awesome collision between Jilly and Raylene, two sisters, one with inner light and the other with inner darkness. The good sister, in some ways, too good to be true. The dark sister, a violent con artist. It is perhaps because the energy deflated out of this conflict, the amazing collision failing to materialize as dramatically as I had hoped, that my doubts about the story came more into relief. The Onion Girl’s world felt a little bit … precious. Those friendships too perfect, Jilly too perfect, too goody-two shoes. Her persona ended up feeling just too good to be true and that left an artificial flavor in my mouth. Mind you, there’s a split personality at work here, in more ways than one. On one hand, the story is about friendships. On the other hand, it about the realistically portrayed horrors of sexual abuse. And the suffering the abuse caused was not soft-pedaled. But there was such an excessive contrast between the pristine goodness of the recovered Jilly and her sister Raylene that it had the effect of making the goodness seem sappy and even prissy.I was also taken out of the story by the humor within the narrative. Or I should say, attempted humor. After a while, I began to notice that all of the various characters’ witticisms fell flat. None of them cracked a smile on my face nor did they come across as credibly humorous enough to make another character laugh. It made me feel as though every character in The Onion Girl considered Marmaduke to be the height of comedy.I interpreted the primary theme of the book as recovery. Recovery and related subjects—redemption and forgiveness or the lack thereof. de Lint explores how sexual abuse can drive people to commit terrible acts, both self-destructive acts and other destructive acts. And how some people grow through them and turn their lives around while others never make it through the tunnel of pain. Moderate plot spoilers (but not the ending) follow: (view spoiler)[Jilly ran away from home at the age of ten in order to escape her brother’s sexual abuse. She even became a prostitute and a drug addict. But she eventually got off the streets and became a modestly recognized artist who spends a lot of time volunteering and helping other runaways. Unfortunately, when she ran away and escaped her brother’s sexual abuse, she left her younger sister behind. Raylene went through almost identical circumstances, until she eventually stabbed her brother. Raylene went on to lead a primarily criminal life with her friend Pinky. (hide spoiler)]
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Nora Peevy
The Onion Girl by Charles de Lint is my new favorite Newford novel, even though it's an older one. de Lint does a remarkable job explaining the origins of the character, Jilly Coppercorn, the beloved fae artist of his fictional town. As usual, de Lint blends world mythology into a modern tale seamlessly. I personally related to Jilly as the proverbial onion girl, as I am sure all of us can. We have all overcome painful obstacles throughout our lives. And it is how we deal with those challenges that shape our hearts and souls. Jilly Coppercorn has a beautiful soul, as do all her friends that live in Newford. If you love art, the fae, and a tale from the heart, this one is for you.
An amazing book that I did not want to let go of once I started the first paragraph. The story of Jilly, her incapacitating accident, healing old wounds, and adventures in the otherworld (or dreamland or whatever you prefer), of course. Unforgettable characters that question what it means to be bad or good and what causes those circumstances.Be warned though that this book deals pretty heavily with sexual abuse/molestation and difficult backgrounds including homelessness, violence, and prostitution. I wasn't expecting it, but strangely I was not as blindsided by it as I usually am. The subject is treated wonderfully, healing and helping others being the foremost topics. To be honest I was surprised how well he wrote about some of these topics from a woman's point of view, and I appreciate that as well.The Onion Girl was a powerful read that had a wonderful and active plot never stopping too much to breathe. If there wasn't physical action or suspense going on, there was active inner dialogue or turmoil that seamlessly took the stage and held its own. The writing style is engaging and empathetic. I love his use of different points of view. I can't wait to read more of his work!
Charles de Lint is the Man of urban fantasy writers. I really appreciate and respect his ability as a middle-aged man to return to a place of youth and wonder, as well as inhabit and develop female characters. It is impossible to not love Jilly Coppercorn. Her sister, Raylene, at first monstrous, is also supercool. De Lint eases the reader into empathy for her and and understanding of the roots of her violent, alienating, and callous ways. Joe Crazy Dog and his friends are pretty much bad asses with big hearts. An excellent read.
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