Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

Holly and Corey are twins and Savitri, their neighbor, is dating Corey in this their senior year at a private Chicago high school. They act like family and Savitri who lives alone with her obstetrician mother needs those familial bonds. There are barely any Indian families in their neighborhood so Savitri assimilates and the Paxton twins become her family and the Hindu mythology she adds to their mix seems to enrich them all.  The inseparable trio are “freerunners” who treat the surfaces of Chicago buildings as their own gymnasium and obstacle course. They all live in Morgan Park, a far southwest side Chicago neighborhood peppered with old homes and established families. Savitri is a brilliant student who’s just heard that she’ll get into Princeton but the plan has always been for the three to stay together in Chicago with Holly at UIC for film and video, Corey at DePaul for computer science and Savitri at University of Chicago or Northwestern for “thinking-too-much.” Princeton was a long shot, a fantasy, but now it might threaten their carefully laid plans.

The afternoon Savitri learns about Princeton is an unexpectedly balmy day so Holly celebrates the false spring by dangling from the edge of a roof four stories above ground and the trio then ricochet off the fa├žade of a standard row of Chicago storefronts in their own urban playground. Their “freerunning” antics show the invulnerability teens often express. Later Savitri’s car trails Corey and Holly’s Mini Cooper home and at a stoplight she watches a hooded gunman step out of an SUV and shoot Corey and Holly through their window. Corey dies immediately but Holly survives.  

In her coma and later, Holly dreams vivid scenes of a snake man who is keeping Corey in an eerie world only she  sees – a place called Shadowlands. When she wakes up, Holly won’t move beyond her dreams and Savitri tries to help her by ignoring her own grief and needs. Holly and Corey’s Dad, a cop, thinks Savitri has the clue to the gunman’s identity and presses her to find it. How the two girls and their parents work to overcome the enveloping grief and to learn the difference between a friend someone needs versus a friend someone wants is the beauty of this novel. 

The interspersed illustrated sections pack staccato punches just when simple prose isn’t enough. They bleed the hurt onto the page.  This is an amazing book that I had no idea would sock me in the solar plexus and leave me in tears yet help me think about how vulnerability is essential for growth.          “we are all vulnerable . . . It’s terrifying this life. Its precarious nature, its random un-design.”

Summing it Up: Read this graphic fiction hybrid for an emotional ride that will have you tearing through the pages as you live inside the real Chicago where Italian beef, roti, neighborhoods, families, cops, and sometimes even random acts of violence coexist. It’s too good for adults to ignore. Starred reviews in Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal explore the excellence of this genre-bending novel.

Graphic fiction hybrid   Ages 14 and up

Rating:  5 stars

Category: Fiction, 5 Stars, Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Book Club

Publication date: September 24, 2013

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