Just Finished Reading … The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee

The Midnight Dress
by Karen Foxlee
To be published by Knopf
on October 8, 2013

Source: ARC from indie bookstore

Connect with the author: Facebook.

Summary from Goodreads: Quiet misfit Rose doesn't expect to fall in love with the sleepy beach town of Leonora. Nor does she expect to become fast friends with beautiful, vivacious Pearl Kelly, organizer of the high school float at the annual Harvest Festival parade. It's better not to get too attached when Rose and her father live on the road, driving their caravan from one place to the next whenever her dad gets itchy feet. But Rose can't resist the mysterious charms of the town or the popular girl, try as she might. Pearl convinces Rose to visit Edie Baker, once a renowned dressmaker, now a rumored witch. Together Rose and Edie hand-stitch an unforgettable dress of midnight blue for Rose to wear at the Harvest Festival—a dress that will have long-lasting consequences on life in Leonora.
My take: I went into this book expecting the typical YA paranormal -- new girl in town, big dance coming up at school, girls in prom dresses, yada, yada --- the same story I've read and loved a dozen times over.

What I got instead was a spellbinding story that was one part dark fairy tale, one part coming of age story, one part mystery. With beautiful yet compellingly readable prose, a vivid setting, and an inventive narrative structure, The Midnight Dress had me enthralled from the first sentence to the last.
Will you forgive me if I tell you the ending?
I loved the way that the book's narrative flashed forward and back, alternating between the investigation of a tragedy on the night of the Harvest Festival to the story of Rose Lovell, who arrives in a sleepy beach town in Queensland, Australia, with her ne'er-do-well father. In the wrong hands, this kind of technique can be confusing, but it worked beautifully here. Each storyline -- the investigation and Rose's integration into town -- moves forward on its own, but each illuminates the other.
The clouds began to pile up in the small jagged patch of sky above the little falls … The day thrummed with the sounds of the forest, the rhythmical drone of cicadas, the ringing of insects, the chatter of birds.
The story is set in Queensland, Australia in 1986. (I hadn't realized that the book was set in the 1980s until one of the characters referred to a major world event of the time.)  As in many Australian novels, the setting is a central part of the story. From the violent rainstorms of the "wet"season to the snakes that slither through the sugar cane fields, the book's descriptions convey the simultaneous beauty and menace of nature.
A type of dark fairy tale story is lurking there.
The Midnight Dress is one of those books that feels as if it's weaving a magical spell over you. There are the two main story lines, as described above, but then the narrative is also filled with other, smaller stories of love and betrayal and tragedy. Rose's friend Pearl tells Rose about the wildly romantic (and wildly improbable) plots of the romance novels she picks up at the Blue Moon Book Exchange. As Rose and town recluse Edie Baker work to sew Rose's Harvest Festival dress, Edie tells Rose strange and tragic stories about her family. As I read, I could feel the way that all Rose's emotions and all Edie's
family history were being sewn right into Rose's dress. By the time the Harvest Festival arrives, I was almost expecting something really dramatic and crazy -- Carrie-prom-style. But, when the tragedy was finally revealed, it was like everything else in this book -- understated and deeply resonant.

I highly recommend this one, especially to fans of dark, lush, atmospheric books like Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke or Chime by Franny Billingsley.


  1. I have this to read next week (picked it up after seeing Heather's review) and I'm really glad to see that you liked it. I'm also going to be reading Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea next week and hope I love both!

    1. I predict you will love it. It's really good! One of my favorites of 2013!

  2. Carrie-prom style--that would have been pretty cool actually;) But this book rocked even without those type of dramatics! You know I loved the prose and the setting too. And I also enjoyed the way the narrative was told, going forward and backwards in time. Sometimes I feel like giving he reader too much info in regards to the book's conclusion a not such good thing. It's a tricky maneuver. But here it worked great. And even though we know some of the details we don't really know EVERYTHING until the end so there are still plenty of surprises. Great review, Jen!

  3. I never heard of this book. Thanks so much for sharing. Loved your review!

  4. Yup. This type of story reminds me if The Sweetest Spell, which you still need to read! Great call!

  5. Whoa, a carrie style ending? I may just have to check this out just to find out about that ending!

    Thanks for the great review! I'm so glad you loved this one

    Michelle @ Book Briefs

  6. Wow- I LOVE dark, lush, atmospheric books! I just finished up Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke & loved it. Definitely going to add this one Jen to my TBR list. Wonderful review-can't wait to check it out myself. Thanks. :)

  7. This sounds amazing...wow, definitely gonna add it to my TBR. I love the cover too. Sounds really unique and magical :)

    Dee @ Dee's Reads

  8. I thought this one did sound different from many other paranormal books out there, simply because the blurb focuses primarily on the friendship between two girls.
    I also like the fact that this doesn't take place in the U.S. Every once in a while it's nice to experience a story from a non-U.S. country and non-U.S. author. And that focus on description that you added sounds lovely. I'll definitely have to keep this one in mind when I want a more atmospheric book.

  9. Ohh this sounds so awesome. I can't wait to read it. I love the mix of dark fairy tale, mystery, coming of age story...and a partridge in a pear tree. Lol.

    Great review, Jen!

  10. WOW everything I see about this book makes me sad I missed it through ATWT. I must get my hands on a copy. I love Aussie stories - love how you describe their powerful settings. This one also sounds like it has beautiful prose and a magical atmosphere. Plus when you said it's not typical my ears perked up. Thanks for sharing this one, Jen!

  11. Wow. This sounds like an amazing read, Jen! I'm glad that you liked it. I am a fan of magical prose, so I'll try and read this one. Awesome review!

  12. This sounds really good. It wasn't really on my radar before, but it is now. It sounds like a fairy tale I read before when you talked about the dress, but I can't remember which fairy tale that is. Thanks for the review!

  13. Kate really loved this one, too. I'm going to have to go see if it's available in audio!


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