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The Onion Girl    by Charles de Lint order for
Onion Girl
by Charles de Lint
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jilly Coppercorn is The Onion Girl, the layers of whose life hide the core of an abused childhood and guilt for the little sister she left behind. Artist Jilly reminds me of a cross between Kipling's Kim, 'Little Friend of all the World' and Peter Pan. She has been present in most previous Newford tales, as a friend and helper of others. Now she needs help herself and a multitude of friends rally around her, for Jilly has been hit by a car and become the 'Broken Girl'. She is in a coma and awakes half paralysed with a long, hard road to recovery.

If you haven't spent time in Newford before, The Onion Girl is probably not the place to begin your journey as it assumes prior acquaintance with many different characters, but it is, in my opinion, the most powerful of the series. De Lint writes gritty urban fantasy, and his latest deals with some tough issues, of childhood sexual abuse, the damage that continues through life, and of recovery from severe trauma. But his world also has hope and magic running through it, captured in Jilly's paintings, that show glimpses of faerie 'in junkyards, or fluttering around a sleeping wino.'

Jilly, wanting to be anywhere but where she was in childhood, always believed in fairy tales. 'She would tap at the back of closets and always look very carefully down rabbit holes. She would rub every old lamp that she came across and wish on any and everything ...' But magic can't fix all problems; the 'three wishes and the genies in bottles, seven-league boots, invisible cloaks and all ... stay in the stories', and though Jilly's accident gives her access to the otherworld, she soon discovers that she must peel back her onion layers and deal with the past before she can heal her body's hurts in the present.

In parallel with Jilly's struggle to recover and to face her own history, the author shows us young Raylene growing up, being abused by an older brother, and taking a dark path in her escape, one that leads to increasing violence and a thirst for revenge. The stories eventually merge and come to resolution, after both protagonists venture into the dreamlands, and spend time at the Inn of the Star-Crossed. The author doesn't cop out with an easy ending but shows individuals who must work hard for their own redemption.

If you've been to Newford before, The Onion Girl is a must read in the series. If not, it's time you visited, but get to know some of the inhabitants in earlier tales like Dreams Underfoot, Moonlight and Vines, or Forests of the Heart, first. De Lint's writing is truly magical, and if it is indeed his voice speaking through Jilly at the end - 'I'm determined to show through my art that there are alternatives to the way the world is these days' - he's doing a fine job.

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