Title: Along the Indigo
Author: Elsie Chapman
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, Fantasy
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available for purchase now
Summary: The town of Glory is famous for two things: businesses that front for seedy, if not illegal, enterprises and the suicides that happen along the Indigo River. Marsden is desperate to escape the “bed-and-breakfast” where her mother works as a prostitute—and where her own fate has been decided—and she wants to give her little sister a better life. But escape means money, which leads Mars to skimming the bodies that show up along the Indigo River. It’s there that she runs into Jude, who has secrets of his own and whose brother’s suicide may be linked to Mars’s own sordid family history. As they grow closer, the two unearth secrets that could allow them to move forward . . . or chain them to the Indigo forever.
Review: Note: Along the Indigo includes multiple deaths by suicide (moderate gore, body found afterward), suicide of an LGBTQIA character (moderate gore, body found afterward), child abuse, murder, and attempted coercion into sex work.
Elsie Chapman’s Along the Indigo is a contemplative story about a girl who is trapped in a place—both physically and mentally—she desperately wants to escape from. Marsden wants to escape Glory in order to save her younger sister, Wynn, and herself from being forced into sex work to pay off her father’s debt. She also wants to escape the covert along the Indigo River, where people come to end their lives because they believe they’ll be saved. And after her father’s death in the river, Marsden can’t escape the worry that she is partly to blame for what happened to him.
Marsden is a fascinating character. Her desperation to amass enough money to escape leads her to skimming (aka stealing) cash off of the bodies she finds in the covert. Marsden’s guilt over her skimming is just as understandable as her motivation to do it, and I like how she grapples with the morality of her actions. Of course, what I loved about her most was her fierce desire to shield Wynn from the horrors in the covert and from the truth of their mother’s work. (I need a whole lot more of good/protective sibling relationships in my books, please.)
In addition to Marsden, Wynn and Jude were the standout characters in this novel. I loved Wynn’s personality, especially her curiosity and her independence. The scenes between Wynn and Marsden frequently offered some much-needed breathing space for a novel that is otherwise rather emotionally draining. Jude was also a memorable character, with his driving need to discover what happened to his brother, deep friendships, and tense home life.
I enjoyed Marsden and Jude’s romance, which starts off on rocky ground thanks to all the secrets Marsden has to keep, the guilt she carries from skimming off his brother, and Jude’s distrust of her (while still wanting her permission to access the covert). This makes their first several interactions rather tense. When that tension fades (a little, not all the way—Marsden has so many secrets), the development of their friendship and then romance was a solid one. I could have done without a small jealousy subplot, but that’s more of a personal preference than an issue with the overall progression.
Along the Indigo is a slow-burn novel that focuses on atmosphere and Marsden’s introspection, though the pace worked for me. Perhaps my only complaint on that front is a supernatural element that I wished had been far more prominent in the story than it was. There were some points where I was doubtful it would even be addressed/resolved by the end of the book. The ending does not tie everything up in neat bows, but there is enough wrapped up for the open ending to be unequivocally on the hopeful side.
(There is one additional thing I want to note, which I don’t feel equipped to talk about due to my limited knowledge of sex worker activism. Marsden talks about her mother, a sex worker, with a great deal of scorn in some scenes. Marsden’s disgust with her mother’s lack of action when Nina begins pressuring Marsden into underage sex work came across to me as a disgust for sex work in general on some occasions.)
Recommendation: Get it soon. Along the Indigo is a strong, character-driven novel about a teenage girl who is doing everything in her power to escape the life she has and save her sister. The slower pace may turn off some readers, but the long, steady build, particularly with the romance, is a satisfying one. I’m looking forward to the author’s next work.