Firstly, the premise is compelling in its simplicity. All children born since the Winter solstice seventeen years previous to when our story takes place, have been able to see ghosts. Some of these ghosts are nice but most are pretty disgruntled at their present condition and some become so embittered that they become nasty shadow-creatures known as Shades. As the story progresses, it becomes more complex – particularly regarding how the powers that be deign to deal with the problems that psychic kids and nasty shadows create. There are interesting riffs on duty and exploitation running throughout the story, giving it more depth than it might have otherwise have.
Character-wise I have few complaints. Aura is our main protagonist. During the story she is approaching her seventeenth birthday and dealing with the sudden death of her boyfriend, Logan. Cleverly, while Logan’s death occurs almost immediately, the author then allows a period where he does not appear to Aura, letting the reader get to know her on her own. Her grief is very believable, as is her friendship with new boy Zachary and the struggles that she has with it. I liked Aura a lot – for a YA protagonist she is pleasantly flawed, refreshingly blunt and realistically mature for her age.
Logan, however, is a different kettle of fish. While I could see why Aura was attracted to him, I didn’t find him particularly likable. At seventeen, he is a talented musician and has that tunnel vision that can come with the drive for fame. He also lacks the maturity that Aura displays – jaunting off in his spirit form with nary a thought for the grieving relatives and friends that he leaves behind. It all kind of works, though and I started to warm to him towards the end of the book.
Then there is Zachary. At first I was suspicious that he had been inserted into Shade simply as a love interest for the grieving Aura, but as the story progresses we see that he has a far larger part to play. Again, he is pleasingly honest and charmingly straight-forward regarding his feelings for Aura. He strikes me as the kind of guy who says exactly what he thinks, although not without caution. The relationship between the two of them is particularly well-realised. At no point does it seem rushed and the way that it is left was very pleasing, feeling both realistic and hopeful. I have no idea where it will go next. Also, Zachary is Scottish and so am I. This means that Zachary and I are destined to be together so keep yer mits to yourself. Talking of Zachary’s Scottishness, maddest of mad props to Jeri Smith-Ready for getting it right. I recently reviewed a certain book which, while excellent in most other respects, got the Scottish vernacular of the teenage Scottish character so badly wrong that it almost ruined the entire book for me. In Shade, Jeri gets it exactly right. Particular woot woots for the excellent usage of the words “wean” and “pure hackit”.
The writing in general is a joy to read. The author handles issues such as teen drinking, drugs and sex with honesty – never shying away from the nitty gritty. Throughout Shade, interesting questions are thrown up regarding the balance between an acceptable period of grief and the peace of mind gained by letting go. For Aura, there are difficult decisions to make between her love for Logan and her own future – how do you let go if the person you’ve lost is…well…not so lost? The cliffhanger ending took me by surprise – I hadn’t even realised that this was a part of a series but I am certainly glad that it is. For anyone looking for a ghost story with a modern twist (and why wouldn’t you be??) then this is for you. Absolutely the best paranormal read of the year so far.