A few weeks back I won something in a random draw contest. It was the first time in my life I’ve ever won something at a raffle-style event, so that alone was special. It was made even more special because the thing that I won happened to be a paperback copy of Who Is Evelyn Dae, signed by both the author and illustrator, Sarah and Matthew LaFleur. I’d been meaning to read LaFleur’s debut novella for ages, and Christmas vacation seemed like the perfect time. So when I finished my last read and had a lazy Sunday afternoon to myself, I opened it up and dove in.
“Dove in” is an excellent way to describe reading this book, because it starts off with a scene loaded with tension and mystery: teenager Evelyn Dae stands on the edge of a cliff, staring down into the ocean, longing for the courage to jump. We don’t know what’s driven her to the cliff side, or who man is she’s pining after. All we know is that something is wrong, and Evelyn isn’t quite what she seems.
First-person narration is interspersed with diary entries and illustrations, and the story is told out of chronological order. First we see Evelyn on top of the cliff, and then we jump back a year to the beginning of Evelyn’s previous school year. We go back and forth in the narration as we follow her journey to self-discovery, to learning her true identity, and the fullness of her past. Evelyn’s secret is cleverly unraveled, and we follow the different threads of her life through the book until we are finally reunited with her once again at the top of the cliff, and this time, we know what brought her there.
The illustrations don’t contribute much to the plot, but they do wonders for the ambiance of the book as a whole. Although Who Is Evelyn Dae is ostensibly a book about a young adult, it could easily be read to a precocious child in elementary school, and is certainly lovely to read as an adult. The simple illustrations contribute to the childish, innocent feel, and yet the black and white sketches lend a sort of ominous character to the narrative. The diary entries are kept simple and short, and each chapter is no longer than a few pages. The mystery churns through the story, keeping you guessing, compelling you to turn the pages, even as you grow more and more certain of the answer to the question posed by the title. There’s no sense of rushing, though – I never felt as though I needed to skip to get ahead. On the contrary, I wanted to linger on every word, wondering how the whole picture would eventually lead to the answers I sought.
The one weak point of the novel is Evelyn’s friends – Jean, Margery, and Stacy. While the other characters – Evelyn, Oliver Knight, Evelyn’s parents, and even one particularly odd character who pops up near the end – are all interesting, complex, and/or humorous, not enough space is given to Evelyn’s friends to flesh them out into real people. That’s okay, in the end – the pacing is perfect, and her friends aren’t really necessary to the plot, so there was no real reason to build them up further. But despite that, I found myself wishing that they had either been more realistic or simply not there at all.
As this is a review, I feel compelled to mention that there were a few typos, but then again, I’ve found typos in some of the most famous books in the world, so it hardly seems fair to use that as a basis for criticism. It certainly did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.
For all other factors, this book succeeds marvelously at what it set out to do. It’s a charming love story, replete with self-discovery, artistic expression, and a fierce, independent protagonist. Not to mention I read the whole thing in under two hours, because I just couldn’t put it down. I give it 4.5/5 stars and recommend it to fans of all things whimsical, fantastical, and delightful.
For more information or to purchase the book, click over to the Amazon page. It’s available in e-book format, but since the illustrations are such a key part of the reading experience and the purchase price doesn’t top eight dollars, I’d recommend reading it in print.