Author: Jeri Smith-Ready
Genre: YA/ Fantasy
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: May 4th 2010
Hardcover: 320 pages
Stand alone or series: First in a planned series
Best. Birthday. Ever. At least, it was supposed to be. With Logan’s band playing a critical gig and Aura’s plans for an intimate after-party, Aura knows it will be the most memorable night of her boyfriend’s life. She never thought it would be his last.
Logan’s sudden death leaves Aura devastated. He’s gone.
Well, sort of.
Like everyone born after the Shift, Aura can see and hear ghosts. This mysterious ability has always been annoying, and Aura had wanted nothing more than to figure out why the Shift happened so she can undo it. But not with Logan’s violet-hued spirit still hanging around. Because dead Logan is almost as real as ever. Almost.
It doesn’t help that Aura’s new friend Zachary is so understanding–and so very alive. His support means more to Aura than she cares to admit.
As Aura’s relationships with the dead and the living grow ever complicated, so do her feelings for Logan and Zachary. Each holds a piece of Aura’s heart…and clues to the secret of the Shift.
Why did I read the book: The combination of the beautiful (and after reading the book, I can say, accurate) cover and the blurb made me want to read this as soon as I first heard about it.
How did I get the book: We received an ARC from the publisher
16 years ago, at 08:540 of the Winter’s Solstice (December 21st) , The Shift occurred and everyone born after that date can see and talk to ghosts. No one knows why or how the Shift happened but attempts are being made to discover this mystery as agencies such as U.S. Department of Metaphysical Purity are created. What people do know is that there are huge differences between pre and post-Shift. The few people who were able to see Ghosts pre-Shift (people who have lost their ability after the event) say that the Ghosts used to be hazy, transparent, white-ish whereas post-Shift they are purple-ish and prone to become Shades – shapeless, angry – when overcome with bitterness and unhappiness. Ghosts are those who for some reason, don’t move on immediately and the longer they stay in contact with loved ones, the more likely they are to become Shades.
Our protagonist Aura, born on that same date, at exactly the time of the Shift, is one of the people who can see the Ghosts. She works with her aunt (who used to be able to see ghosts pre-Shift) on wrongful death litigation where Ghosts seek peace through justice to be able move on. She is a little bitter about her job, about being unable to block the Ghosts away and her utmost wish is to find out why the Shift happened so that she can make it stop. Thus, this is why at school, Aura is working on a project investigating the connection between old structures such as England’s Stonehenge and Ireland’s Newgrange – where the Solstice is an important event – and their possible connection with not only the Shift but also to her own family and her missing father. Aura’s mother died when she was three but an old diary places her exactly one year before her birth on Newgrange. What does that mean?
And this is only the world-building, the background against which Jeri Smith-Ready sets Aura’s story, a story that becomes less about finding out about the Shift and more about the character herself when her boyfriend and best friend Logan, dies and becomes a Ghost. Aura has to deal with his loss, with the grief she feels, with being with him as an untouchable yet very present Ghost as well as –over time (the book spans a period of a few months) developing feelings for another guy, Zachary, her project partner.
Shade is an incredible book not only in terms of world building but also characterisation. With regards to the former, even though ghosts are not exactly new, the Shift and its repercussions are completely novel and refreshing. For example, in this new order, only people who are younger than 16 can see the Ghosts. Consider what this means for all involved. For the first wave of children born post-Shift who had to convince their Ghost-blind parents of what they were seeing; to the adults who can’t see them and yet know that there are Ghosts around; to the Ghosts themselves who can only communicate with children and teenagers.
There is a plethora of ways of blocking Ghosts, all developed post-Shift. For some reason, the colour red repels them as do Obsidian objects. Then, there is the BlackBox, a technology which many households and public spaces have installed to keep the Ghosts away. What does that mean though, when Ghosts stay around to connect with their loved ones and are repelled? Becoming Shades seems to be inevitable in many cases.
I seem to be concentrating on the world-building because it is so fascinating and well-thought out but the story is much more emotional than this. Aura and her grief is central to the story , a grief which is shared with Logan’s family and friends. But also the reader, because the author doesn’t kill Logan until way into the book and we see his interactions with brothers, sisters; his dream of becoming a famous musician and his love for Aura. One of the best sequences in the book, is when it becomes clear that Logan becomes a Ghost. Some of the characters are overcome with happiness: Aura and his brother Dylan who are both able to see him. But nothing is more devastating than reading how his mother lets out a wail of despair when she hears he is there: not only because she can’t see him but because she knows he hasn’t moved on.
Logan and Aura continue their relationship but all of the involved know that this is an impossible situation. Logan has got to move on lest he becomes a Shade; having a relationship with a dead guy is obviously not healthy and the more the time pass the more it becomes a thing of sadness rather than of happiness. One thing that I really appreciated is how Logan is never sanctified after his death and he remains a believable, teenage guy with all the shortcomings he had in life, remaining in death.
Speaking of believable, all characters, especially the teenagers came across as real to me. In the particular group that Aura navigates, music is the glue that binds them together and I loved how they listened to new, modern stuff. More than that, these kids like to party, have fake IDs, they drink, have sex with their boyfriends and girlfriends and are still generally portrayed as good kids without being judged (and convicted) by their behaviour.
So many times, I read what feels like sanitised, PG versions of teenagers – the ones that don’t swear, don’t have sex, don’t drink, nor do they even think about these things. Of course there are teenagers that are exactly like that, but there are those that aren’t and they are not “evil”, or “bad” either, they are just real people too. I loved all the kids in the book: Aura; Logan and his brothers and sister; Aura’s best friend Megan. And then there is Zachary. The only character who might come across as too good to be true but I am sure I am not going to be the only to say: Team Zach for the win. It is completely understandable that Aura would fall for him, developing feelings whilst still loving Logan, moving on and choosing life over death. It is not easy though, and some very emotional scenes ensue.
I do have a few points to nitpick: many, many questions are left unanswered and unsolved, in fact, far too many. I understand the choice of the author in focusing on Aura and the characters but the result is that this book reads very much like a “first” in a series and with a horrible (as in: OMG I want to know more!) cliff-hanger to boot. Although I can’t go into detail that very same cliff-hanger came too easily – what exactly happens there seem to have been achieved without too much trouble which to me came across as unbelievable. But to be fair, part of it may be explained by Aura’s own identity but as I said, we have no final answers to sustain my suspicions.
All things considered, this is definitely one of the best, most refreshingly original YA debuts I ever read. I can’t believe I will have to wait a whole freaking year for the sequel, Shift.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:
“You can hear me, can’t you?”
I punched the green print button on the copier to drown out the disembodied voice. Sometimes if I ignored them long enough, they went away—confused, discouraged, and lonelier than ever. Sometimes.
Okay, almost never. Usually they got louder.
No time to deal with it that day. Only one more set of legal briefs to unstaple, copy, and restaple, then I could go home, trade this straitjacket and stockings for a T-shirt and jeans, and make it to Logan’s before practice. To tell him I’m sorry, that I’ve changed my mind, and this time I mean it. Really.
“I know you can hear me.” The old woman’s voice strengthened as it came closer. “You’re one of them.”
I didn’t flinch as I grabbed the top brief from the stack on the conference room table. I couldn’t see her under the office’s bright fluorescent lights, which made it about one percent easier to pretend she wasn’t there. Someday, if I had my way, none of them would be there.
“What an intolerably rude child,” she said.
I yanked the staple out of the last brief and let it zing off in an unknown direction, trying to hurry without looking like I was hurrying. If the ghost knew I was getting ready to leave, she’d spit out her story, no invitation. I carefully laid the pages in the sheet feeder and hit print again.
“You can’t be more than sixteen.” The lady’s voice was close, almost at my elbow. “So you were born hearing us.”
I didn’t need her to remind me how ghosts’ ramblings had drowned out my mother’s New Agey lullabies. (According to Aunt Gina, Mom thought the old-fashioned ones were too disturbing—“down will come baby, cradle and all.” But when dead people are bitching and moaning around your crib at all hours, the thought of falling out of a tree is so not a source of angst.)
Worst part was, those lullabies were all I remembered of her.
“Come on,” I nagged the copier under my breath, resisting the urge to kick it.
The piece of crap picked that moment to jam.
“Shit.” I clenched my fist, driving the staple remover tooth into the pad of my thumb. “Ow! Damn it.” I sucked the pinpoint of blood.
“Language.” The ghost sniffed. “When I was your age, young ladies wouldn’t have heard such words, much less murdered the mother tongue with…” Blah blah…kids these days…blah blah…parents’ fault…blah.
I jerked open the front of the copier and searched for the stuck paper, humming a Keeley Brothers’ song to cover the ghost’s yakking.
“They cut me,” she said quietly.
I stopped humming, then blew out a sigh that fluttered my dark bangs. Sometimes there’s no ignoring these people.
More from the excerpt here.
Additional Thoughts: The author wrote a fascinating guest-post for John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” feature talking about the process of writing Shade and the ideas behind it. You can read it here.
Verdict: I love Jeri Smith-Ready’s writing, this innovative world-building and her life-like teenage characters. Shade stands out in a crowded genre and I highly recommend it.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Paper Towns by John Green