By Emma Wallace and Katie Simpson
Not to be Overlooked introduces a variety of wonderful but lesser-known books to assist readers in finding their next great reads. This week’s column reviews Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s debut children’s novel, The Girl of Ink and Stars, and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars.
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
It is sometimes assumed that children’s fiction can only be enjoyed for as long as the reader is themselves a child. There are, unfortunately, some children’s books that do uphold this theory, losing both relevance and impact over time. There are others, however, like Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s debut The Girl of Ink and Stars, which manage to not only overcome that discrepancy in age, but also to cut through the cynicism and disbelief that can so often accrue as you grow up. Like all great children’s fiction, it has a dual quality to it, one which enables it to be read and enjoyed on its most basic, whimsical level by children but also with almost symbolic levels of nostalgia and affection by adults.
Following a young girl called Isabella Riosse, the daughter of a cartographer who lives on the island of Joya, The Girl of Ink and Stars is an expertly crafted folk tale that weaves together myth, magic and even a thread of political intrigue into its haunting and expansive fantasy world. Shrouded in mystery and mysticism, Joya is an enigma even to its residents. Forbidden from venturing beyond their small township by their strict governor, the story retains a claustrophobic, small-world feel, reminiscent of Grimm’s fairy tales. Much like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, Joya feels like shadowy, uncharted terrain, hiding beneath its surface a myriad of unexplored histories, creatures and myths. Preoccupied with ideas of exploration and inspired by the far-flung places her father once documented, Isabella yearns for adventure and dreams of exploring Joya’s secrets.
When her best friend Lupe runs away, disappearing into the forbidden forest, Isabella sees an opportunity to make use of her cartographic knowledge and volunteers to bring her back. With only her knowledge of ancient myths and one of her father’s maps to guide her, Isabella makes the perilous journey into Joya’s unknown depths, discovering mythic monsters, lost secrets and the many magical domains that make up Joya’s realm.
Reading The Girl of Ink and Stars reminded me of the imaginative possibilities and scope of children’s fiction. Highly reminiscent of the writing of Philip Pullman and Neil Gaiman, Kiran Millwood Hargrave crafts a story seemingly out of the fragments of classic children’s fantasy fiction, reworking their conventions and hallmarks with characteristically creative flair and with a sparsely lyrical prose that pays homage to Millwood Hargrave’s poetic background. Haunting, ethereal and deeply moving, this is a story that rewards being reread by adult eyes.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
In the midst of lockdown Zoom quizzes and days spent binge-reading with a G&T at 5pm (what else was there to do?), We Were Liars was born again as a BookTok obsession. Originally published in 2014 by Hot Key Books, E. Lockhart’s eighth novel made its way onto BookTok and swiftly had everyone in its grip. But here in the Not to be Overlooked team, we like to cater for everyone, so even if you’re not an avid TikToker, we want to make sure you know about this book!
The first thing you need to know: We Were Liars will make you question everything.
Cadence Sinclair is young, beautiful and privileged. She spends her summers on her family’s private island with her cousins, aunts and grandad, wrapped up in her own little world. We know that Cadence suffers from excruciating migraines, but we don’t know why. We know there are blanks in her memory, but we don’t know why. We know something has happened to shake her idyllic view of the island, but we don’t know what.
The great thing about this book is that you know very little until the final chapter, hence why the synopsis doesn’t give much away. Lockhart’s writing strings you along, and it’s a string you’re happy to keep hold of. This is a coming-of-age novel like no other, written with an understanding for feeling trapped and consumed by something you can’t control.
Intertwined with stories of teenage romance and reckless friendships, We Were Liars is a refreshing take on a YA novel. Lockhart’s writing is fast-paced and clean without wordy descriptions.
Once you pick it up, you’ll spend 225 captivating pages looking for clues, and you’ll be left wanting even more.