The Onion Girl -- Charles de Lint
Jilly Coppercorn gets hit by a car while out on one of her frequent nighttime rambles. She wakes up in the hospital with injuries so extensive that she might never pick up a paintbrush again, let alone walk. While describing her as devastated is an understatement, there is a silver lining: Before her accident, Jilly was never able to visit the dreamlands -- but now, whenever she falls asleep, she finds herself in the world that she's heard about and imagined for so many years:
"Maybe your being able to cross over like this is compensation for all the work you've got waiting for you back in the World As It is. Or maybe that bang on the head knocked loose whatever it is that lets people cross over in a dream."
I am shaking my head now. Joe just ignores it. He fixes that steady gaze of his on me, the clown gone. He's all serious.
"I brought in a couple of different healers," he says. "Even asked the crow girls to look in on you. They all say the same thing. You've got to do the mending on your own. See, the problem is, there's an older hurt, sitting there on the inside of you, and it's blocking anybody's attempts to speed the natural healing process of what's wrong on the outside."
Her friends see her new ability as more of a danger -- the more time she spends in the dreamlands, the more disconnected she becomes with the World As It Is. They're worried that rather than deal with her painful past, she's going to give up on her physical body and her physical life. And dying in the World As It Is doesn't mean that she'll be able to forever wander the dreamlands. Dying is dying.*
To complicate things further, shortly after the hit-and-run, someone breaks into Jilly's studio and destroys her faerie paintings -- as difficult as it is for her friends to imagine someone hating Jilly, it appears that she has an enemy.
I loved the world and the magic system (system isn't quite the right word in this case -- magic seems to work differently for different characters). Though this is one of the later Newford books, I didn't feel lost. That isn't to say that de Lint explained everything and everybody -- I knew for sure that I was missing big chunks of backstory (Cody's, for instance -- there were a few lines about him that really piqued my interest), but I had enough to work with to understand what was going on, and really, this was a story about Jilly.
As I've mentioned, this was my first Charles de Lint. And while I suspect that it may have not been the perfect one to start with**, I've already printed out his entire bibliography and I'm planning on diving back in very, very soon. Like, as soon as I figure out which one to read next.
*Well, sort of. Later, someone talks about dying as being a change in state or something along those lines -- but it seemed clear that when you die, you Go Somewhere Else. Or maybe become someone else. I dunno. Either way, if Jilly dies in the World As It Is, she dies in the dreamlands, too. I think.
**For example... Jilly's friends say again and again how vivacious and sparky Jilly usually is, but as I'd never met her before, I only had their word to go on, you know? I actually ended up finding Raylene much more interesting.