Patricia Geary
Strange Toys

This is a winner of the Philip K. Dick award for best (US) paperback original, which seems somehow appropriate. Patricia Geary writes smoothly and very differently from Dick himself, but there's a Dickian flavour in the elusiveness of reality here, in the gallery of quirky characters with not a world-shaker to be seen, and in the "never apologize, never explain" confidence with which ambiguous fantasy elements are handled.

At nine years old (which she is for most of the book) the heroine Pet operates with convincing young logic. Her black-sheep teenage sister has plugged the family into big trouble, through both criminal and occult tinkering: Pet "knows" how to construct defences, starting with the magical deployment of her collection of 37 small plush poodles and leading logically enough to voodoo charms. Traversing 1960s America with the rest of her bickering family, she gets in deeper, and out of her depth, and wins, and (proleptically) loses.

What happened emerges as years later we meet her in her teens and her thirties – by which time she's gained strength (in the most literal, weight-lifting sense) and confidence, and can at last settle the old ghosts. Not being nine any more, she doesn't spend time rehearsing details for the benefit of readers. In this final section, sex and ceremonial magic happen; the bad sister makes a farewell appearance; Pet can close the book she disastrously opened as a kid, but the logic of settlement is left as a hinted, elliptical thing.

An unusual and low-key fantasy, without the too common Tolkienian or Manichean division between utter black and white; the morality might be grey, the fluid writing is anything but.