White Midnight, by Dia Calhoun (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003)

Rose Chandler isn’t your typical heroine: she’s skinny, ugly, and prone to panic attacks that often lead to fainting. At fifteen, she’s old enough to marry but knows all too well how undesirable she is. Frankly, she doesn’t care; her true love is Greengarden Orchard, and her specialty is growing apple trees, and splicing together various trees to create hardy hybrids. Then she discovers her family has made a devil’s bargain with the lord and master of Greengarden, the cold Mr. Brae. If she marries his grandson, a misshapen creature known as the Thing and kept locked in the attic of the Bighouse, her family will have everything it’s ever wanted. Can she make that sacrifice for her family and for Greengarden? She doesn’t have much of a choice, all told. But when she goes through with the marriage, she’s made privy to a series of truths that shock her world to the core. Among them: Mr. Brae needs an heir, and he doesn’t care if he fathers it… or the Thing does. And so Rose will discover just what terrors are locked in the attic, and how they relate to a race of people known as the Dalriadas, with whom Rose’s people are at war. She’ll be forced to deal with her darkest fears, and face the Thing head-on, and make some terrible sacrifices, but will they be the right ones?

White Midnight is an interesting book, possessing an almost Gothic quality and evoking elements of The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, and Beauty and the Beast. In some ways, it’s an uncomfortable book, with a heroine it’s hard to really emphasize with, and a plot that takes some strange turns. The pacing is almost surprisingly choppy in places, and the ending abrupt. Billed as a prequel to Calhoun’s first book, Firegold, it works well as a standalone; not having read Firegold, I can’t say how well they relate overall. This book isn’t for everyone, and the issue of teen pregnancy may be a warning flag for some readers or parents. Nevertheless, it’s still worth checking out.

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