Wink Poppy Midnight was exactly the kind of weird, slightly messed-up book that I like. April Genevieve Tucholke’s tale of oddly-named teenagers with claustrophobically overlapping relationships is essentially an example of the much-maligned love triangle, but the triangle is kind of misshapen and off-centre, with constantly shifting points. If I remembered any maths I’d be able to give it that special name for a triangle with uneven sides, but I would scare myself too much if I actually looked it up.
The eponymous characters, and narrators of the book, are Wink, a strangely ethereal bumpkin with numerous brothers and sisters; Poppy, a self-confessed bully and oddly proud of the fact, and Midnight, essentially the emotional heart of the story. Midnight begins by telling us about his deeply unhealthy relationship with Poppy, for whom he serves as a romantic stand-in, in the absence of the boy she actually likes. Moving away from Poppy’s clutches, Midnight finds himself in the company of Wink and her inexhaustible repertoire of fairy tales; for Wink, Midnight is ‘the hero,’ but for me, he’s just ‘the slightly ineffectual and easily manipulated naïf. Complicated relationshippy things happen and, a couple of pranks-gone-too-far later, things get even more messy.
Wink Poppy Midnight does one of the things that really annoys me – alternating narrative voices – but manages without actually annoying me; each voice is unique and odd in its own way and, although I’m not sure any of them ever sound like real people, I don’t know that that actually matters. Poppy’s cruelty is oddly compelling; she’s horrendous, but the pleasure she seems to take from that is weirdly entertaining to read about. Wink and her many siblings, with equally interesting names, seem to provide an intriguingly peaceful contrast, although this turns out to be a misconception. So, although Midnight is the “nice” one of the three (albeit making some very questionable decisions), he’s annoyingly easily led; he often refers to the fact that his mother has moved to France, and I have now developed a theory that Midnight is attracted to bossy, domineering girls because they serve as some kind of mother-replacement. Now I’ve made this book sound even weirder. While on the subject of parents, Wink Poppy Midnight does little to dispel my belief that YA fiction depends entirely on absent parents: aside from his absent mother, Midnight’s father spends his whole life in the attic, Wink’s father has mysteriously disappeared, an Poppy’s parents are such successful doctors that they never have to see any patients or spend any time working, instead gallivanting off and leaving Poppy home alone. Because, clearly, that’s a great idea.
This book has a different tone and feel to anything else I’ve read recently; it’s got a really weird vibe, partly due to the fact that it’s hard to know how truthful any of the narrators are being at any given time. These are all more reasons for me to like it. And look: nearly 500 hundreds word into this review before I’ve shown my superficial side and mentioned the beautiful cover!