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Cooley, Stacey L. Izzy Rio’s Wild and Pretty. (The Carnival Time Series Book One). Albuquerque, NM : Back of Town Publishing, 2012. A New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian mystery.

style ****
substance ***1/2

A unique and fresh story set during Mardi Gras, focusing on the milieu of the little known (to me anyway) Mardi Gras Indians, Stacey L. Cooley’s Izzy Rio’s Wild and Pretty is a stunning debut novel.

Describing exactly which genre Wild and Pretty falls into is a bit of a challenge : a mystery, sort of; character study, maybe; fantasy, maybe not. Having never been to New Orleans, I don’t know the city, but Cooley’s descriptions ring authentic. Indeed, the city assumes such a prominent place in the narrative that one might say it’s the main character. However, our teenage heroine, Izzy Rio, is a memorable and vivid personality herself, and Wild and Pretty is the story of her picaresque journey to find the secret of her father’s death ten years prior on Lundi Gras Day in New Orleans.

There’s also the quirky supporting characters, which include, among others, legendary Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, who makes a cameo appearance, of a sort. Ghosts and spirits, too, which intermingle with real people, and we’re never quite sure which is which. Is the title character a ghost?

There’s a wonderful impressionistic flow to the writing, reinforcing the vague feeling of a dream-like, through-the-looking-glass mood and tone. I take the story to be straightforward, but author Cooley’s deft hand keeps us guessing, her style sometimes suggesting the touch of a poet. Her writerly talents really shine with the loving, atmospheric descriptions of the city, especially the French Quarter.

Also much kudos to Jera Publushing for the cover and interior design, the real knockout being the front cover with its incredible photograph of the title character. Wow! Now that’s a photo!

A couple of fussy complaints : Izzy speaks very polished English for a sixteen year old with little formal education. Related: I might have wished for a little more eye dialect to get a better flavor of the characters’ regional speech patterns — but then again maybe not, as that kind of thing can be overdone and gets old fast. Never mind.

Bottom line: one is tempted to invoke that tired phrase ‘instant classic’ to describe Wild and Pretty, since its potential appeal is too broad to properly call it a cult classic. Let’s simply suffice with : a unique tale, told very well, giving us a glimpse into a fascinating subculture.