Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review: Chasing Shadows


Title: Chasing Shadows
Author: Swati Avasthi (pro SWA-thee of-US-thee), graphics by Craig Phillips
Release Date: 2013
Genre: grief, pain, death, friendship, romance, violence, crime, family, mental health, Hindu, graphic novel
My Rating: ***
Official Rating: Young Adult Fiction
Age Group: 18+
Awards: Junior Library Guild Selection, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Star, Library Journal, YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2014, YALSA Outstanding Books for College Bound 2014, Bank Street Best Children's Books 2014

"Madness is the emergency exit" --Alan Moore, The Killing Joke
So begins Ms. Avasthi's book, and rather accurately I might add.

The book follows the experiences of Savirtri and her best friend Holly Paxton. Corey, Holly's twin brother and Savirtri's boyfriend, is shot and killed in an act of violence the two girls struggle to understand. Sav tries to convince herself she is not to blame for his death, that her hesitation of forty-seven seconds before running to his car did not cause him to bleed out. Holly, also injured in the attack, falls into a coma where she meets Kortha, the ruler of the Shadowlands where Corey is being kept. If she can find his killer, she may be able to get Corey back.
With Holly drawing further and further from reality, and Sav unable to face her own grief while she is trying to help her best friend, things begin to fall apart.

And Corey? Well, "'Corey made a choice.' His [Mr. Paxton's] voice gets thick. 'He was a good brother. A good man. You have to honor that.'"
Corey took a bullet for his twin sister. Then he died for her.
Can Holly face that reality? Can Sav?

Word of Warning
  • The beginning can get a little graphic with the shooting as one character tries to stop the injured from bleeding out. 
  • Holly and her boyfriend were sexually involved. At one point, she was afraid she had become pregnant. He finds out and insinuates that it might not be his kid, basically feeding her to the wolves at high school.
    • At one point Holly goes to visit him and tries to seduce him to distract herself from her grief. She removes her shirt and has his pants unzipped before he completely turns her down.
  •  It's not clear whether Sav and Corey were also sexually intimate. At one point she reveals she wanted to wait, and he accepted that without argument. Still, there are times where she remembers sneaking into his bedroom at night and sleeping next to him.
  • Characters kiss.
  • Parents fight.
  • A girl drugs another girl.
  • A character is shot and killed. Another character is injured and in a coma.
  • Characters deal with grief in a very raw way that can be painful to read about.
  • The main characters in this book are freerunners. That means they're often off running, jumping, and flipping off various things.
  • Theft of a police file by multiple characters, then later theft of a gun.
  • One character becomes obsessed with a false reality in which a man wants her to kill someone, or touch a killer, in order to save another.
  • A character hears voices. This character also stubbornly resists any help in the grieving process, shutting everyone out one by one.
  • Gangs are mentioned and initiation (either killing someone and cutting off a lock of hair, or standing without resisting while being beaten) is as well.
  • The Chicago police are referred to as the biggest gang in Chicago.
  • Racist comments like implying that the police are going to be particularly upset if a black gang kills a rich white kid.
  • Lying to the police.
  • A character almost kills another character.
  • Parents in general fail in this novel. They shut their children out, or force them to do things, or berate their friendship choices, or a multitude of other things. Yes, they are grieving too, but they just fail over and over and over and their efforts not to are nearly nonexistent, making it very hard to forgive them.

The Good
  • Josh, Holly's ex-boyfriend, makes a huge turnaround. He's nothing of the huge jerk that he was made out to be. He steps up and is there when Sav needs a friend to turn to in her grief and even tries to help Holly as well. While he might've been an awful person in the past, when Holly comes to him for distraction he turns her down and will not relent, not even when she starts shouting at him and leaves in an angry huff. He eventually becomes one of my favorite characters.
  • Corey. For all his mistakes, he was a good supportive boyfriend and a good brother. His father's description of him as a "Good brother. A good man" seems pretty accurate, even with all his faults. It almost brings tears to the reader's eyes when it is revealed that he leaned across his sister and took the deadly bullet--for her.
  • The way this novel is written. It is careful and well-done, dealing with a difficult subject in an honest and raw way. It may slip up at times, but I have to give the author credit for her bold move in doing what she did.

My Thoughts
A mishmash of two first person narrators, words, and panels that appear to be taken from a graphic novel, used when words seem to fail, this book is truly one of the strangest things I have ever read.
But it was addicting. I couldn't put it down. I also couldn't stop myself from becoming emotionally attached to characters who are so unlike me it might be hard to find anyone further away.

It was a hard read. Not in the sense of language or structure or anything else we associate with "hard read" when we think of the classics.
No, this was just hard to swallow. Hard to get through. Hard to watch.

Because even though this was words, mostly, that's what I was doing: watching. Watching Holly slowly lose her mind and lock everyone out. Watching Sav struggle to figure out whether she should go along with Holly or stand in front of her and stop her. Watching Corey die, seeing little glimpses into his character even after he was dead. Watching the parents struggle, the police unable to find the criminal, watching. Watching.

Sometimes I wanted to yell at the book and the characters. A few times I smacked the pages with an open palm in frustration.

And that is skill. A writer who can cause that kind of emotional response from someone who has read far more books than she's willing to admit, well, sometimes that's more difficult than it ought to be.
It has its problems, yes. Some are unforgivable, sure. They make it inappropriate for young readers, of course. The topic itself even narrows the audience.
But for all that, this is still skill.
And I respect that.

No comments: