Not sure how I missed the boat on this one. I am always on the lookout for good new novels and I love reading an author’s first novel because I know the amount of blood, sweat and tears that go into that first novel and I think it shows up on the page. But for some reason, The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste slipped by me for way too long. Those of you who read my reviews regularly (I’m hoping there’s at least one of you out there) know I love finding great new authors to read and though Kiste has put some other stuff out, this is her first full length novel and it’s an incredible first novel. You can check out our review of her novel Pretty Marys All In A Row HERE.
At its core, The Rust Maidens is a coming of age novel about what happens to a group of girls living in Cleveland shortly after their graduation from high school. As is often used in these types of novels, the narrative flips between the present, when the protagonist, Phoebe Shaw, returns to Denton Street for the first time since she was a teenager, and the past when Phoebe watches her friends transform into what the locals called Rust Maidens. While Phoebe herself never transforms and understands what it means to be a Rust Maiden, her friends, including her best friend and cousin Jacqueline do change and from that point on, she never feels as close to her friend as she did before the transformation. This leads Phoebe to leave Denton Street and Cleveland altogether, until she is forced to make a return many years later.
While the story is set in a big city, the residents of Denton Street are close and have their own way of living life, giving the novel the feel of one that takes place in a small town. Everyone knows everyone else and there are few people walking around in Denton Street that are not familiar. Denton Street becomes, in effect, Kiste’s version of the small-town setting. By creating this small town in a big city, Kiste adds urgency to the story in the same way Stephen King or Bentley Little does in so many of their novels. The street is that familiar place that the reader knows Kiste will always return to and becomes another character that we learn about and one that grows and changes throughout the story.
The Rust Maidens won a Stoker award for best first novel earlier this year and it’s easy to see why. (You can check out all the winners HERE) The characters are vivid and remain alive inside your head long after you’ve finished the story. And the plot is imaginative and treads in new and different ground, creating a story unlike anything I’ve read before. The Rust Maidens gets a strong 4/5 from me.
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