If any book has a unique premise, this is it. I picked it up completely blind, not having read the blurb beforehand, and the result was a whole lot of confusion that still managed to hook me and keep me wanting to know more until the end: a testament to Lydia Kang’s writing skills.
As far as magical realism goes, The November Girl has it all. Situated on Isle Royale, the story is about Anda, the November Witch who causes the devastating storms that sinks ships and takes lives all through the month, and Hector, a teenage runaway who escapes to the island in the hope of avoiding his uncle until he comes of age in May- only to bump into Anda.
The way Kang brings her characters to life is amazing. She’s got a great touch for what it means to be human, and manages to imbue her characters with personalities that are sometimes only conveyed by a certain word or abstract mention. Anda’s and Hector’s voices are very distinct, and Kang beautifully conveys Anda’s struggle with her dual nature, and the fact that she’s struggling to connect with her human side, as well as Hector’s inner struggle and the demons that he’s haunted by. That, and their slowly-revealed backstories, make their respective character arcs, and the way that they develop, all the more compelling: you’re rooting for them.
The magical element itself (for which I’m a sucker) is introduced gradually and matter-of-factly into the plotline, which I really liked: there’s no big reveal moment, only a slow and drawn-out realisation on Hector’s part, plus some very cool magic with boats and stuff. Kang’s approach to Anda’s powers and her connection to the lake is a great concept, and one that she definitely makes the most of: rather than life, Anda draws her power and energy from the people she kills in shipwrecks, which makes her both a force of nature and- at least at the start- an ambiguous, powerful character who is more in tune with nature than humanity. Watching her bounce off the very human Hector as a result is great to watch.
Like Hector, you gradually discover who exactly Anda is as the story progresses, which makes for some excitement, interspersed with some very lovely character beats. For most of the book, they are the only two people in it, which gives their relationship time to breathe and develop more naturally: though I think Anda is a tad too ethereal to really sell the romance- I kept wondering whether she was going to forget about him or not- the slowly developing relationship between them is very sweet and considered, taking into account Hector’s fragility as well as Anda’s duality.
Overall, this is a sweet, ethereal romance that explores what it means to be human, and what it means to love, as well as bringing its two very different, lost, protagonists together. I loved it: for people wanting a great love story with their magical realism this is one for you.
Book cover taken from Goodreads.