Title: Chasing Shadows I Author: Swati Avasthi I Publisher: Random House/Knopf Books for Young Readers
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) offers the following synopsis for:
In this novel/graphic-novel hybrid, Holly and Savitri each fight to save themselves and their friendship after a ruthless killer ends Chases's [sic] life.
Actual Plot Summary: Twins - Holly and Corey along with their friend Savitri (Sav) are high school seniors by day and are freerunners through the streets of Chicago at night.
Side note – Please be aware that the name "Chase" as it is used within YALSA's book synopsis is a misprint. The character that loses his life in Chasing Shadows is a high school student by the name of Corey. No big deal…typos happen, but you'll want to keep this in mind for the review.
Actual Plot Summary (continued): They enjoy going out into the city and practicing freerunning (this is a martial arts discipline described as the art of expressing oneself in one's environment without limitation of movement) in an effort to expand their ability to overcome fear and obstacles. After a night of heavy aerobic activity near the NIU campus, they head home in separate cars. Holly is driving the lead car and Savi is driving a short distance behind when a man approaches Holly's car and shoots. The shooter kills Corey and sends Holly into a coma. Savitri is paralyzed with fear and doesn't react as quickly as she would have liked. When she finally gets to Holly's car, she is unable to resuscitate Corey. Sav's been dating Corey and has just finished explaining to him that she has been accepted into Princeton and plans to attend in the fall. She is stricken by guilt that this is her last conversation with him before his death and that she reacted so slowly after the shooting.
Holly finds herself caught between two worlds while she lays in her coma where she exists in the Shadowlands. She sees Corey there with a creature named Kortha. Kortha has placed a noose around Corey's neck and plans to keep him in the Shadowlands. Holly has to decide whether to stay with Corey or return to the living world. Savitri's voice convinces her to return.
Once out of her coma, Holly is plagued by a voice in her head that tries to convince her to forego grief counseling and return to the Shadowlands to retrieve Corey from Kortha's "Cave of Souls." As she watches her parent's strained marriage crumbling, she slowly gives in to the voice. She convinces herself that she is a comic book hero named Leopardess and within that role, she successfully tracks down her brother's killer with the help of Savitri.
In the meantime, Holly becomes increasingly irrational and convinces Sav to sacrifice her dream of going to Princeton. Holly then drugs Sav in order to induce a coma so that Sav can help her retrieve Corey from the "Cave of Souls."
This young adult book has earned a Mature Content rating because it contains mature portrayals of romantic relationships that contain sexual components. This YA novel also contains extreme language, extremely anti-social behavior and mature depictions of extreme depression and psychosis. It receives three and a half stars for story development.
Review : This is the first review of titles taken from YALSA's list of 2014 Best Fiction for Young Adults. Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi is described as a novel/graphic novel hybrid, and is what I would describe to be an example of decent literature by modern standards. Having said this, Chasing Shadows is in no way appropriate for children between the ages of 12 to 18. This age range is how the American Library Association delineates the Young Adult genre.
The novel's mature themes and emotional intensity would be well suited to college aged students and adults between the ages of 18 (post high school) to 25 as long as they wouldn't mind reading about high school students.
Chasing Shadows contains highly stylized dialog that at times lends itself to the spontaneity of Beat poetry. The artwork fits in well the storyline. Illustrations hold their own and are not used as a crutch by the author, but rather a tool for conveying graphic violence, emotional trauma and the eventual psychotic break experienced by the character "Holly."
The many, many expletives that are laced throughout the novel would not be missed if they were left out. Also, there is a flashback sequence that refers to a sexual relationship between Holly and another character (Josh) that results in a pregnancy scare. Distress leads to Josh's betrayal of Holly's confidence, and the conflict crescendos with the high school rumor-mill declaring Holly to be a tramp followed by weeks of humiliation for Holly. The mature reader may argue that this sequence cements the close knit bond that exists between twins Corey and Holly and Savitri. This argument also may be offered about the physical relationship that exists between Savitri and Corey. It's necessary so the reader appreciates the intense loss that Savitri is experiencing. Holly's attempted seduction of Josh near the end of the book which includes her disrobing and unzipping Josh's pants can certainly be justified as essential for establishing Holly's growing emotional instability.
Frankly, I'm not here to argue whether such plot sequences are necessary to this or any storyline. If an author thinks that it is important for her characters to be foul mouthed and sexually active, then it is. I'm simply stating that certain plot sequences by their nature ought to disqualify books from inclusion on a list that champions YALSA's best YA literature of 2014...specifically because YALSA states: "The books, recommended for ages 12-18, meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens." (My emphasis.)
On a separate point, the author's nuanced approach in depicting the decline in Holly's mental health might be difficult for the average teen to discern. Because of the "graphic novel" format coupled with Holly's and Savitri's actual success (where adults had failed) in tracking down Corey's killer, the reader is directed to a false impression that Holly is fairly competent in spite of her erratic behavior.
Let's be clear, the average 12 to 18 year old will recognize comic book cues that will allow him or her to suspend disbelief in order to play along with the traditional Man v. Supernatural vibe that the novel gives off…more than once during my evaluation of this novel, I distrusted my own instinct that told me I was reading about a teen's descent into psychosis because its comic book nature was incongruous with the subtlety of the author's suggestions. I believe strongly that children will miss the vague indications of instability in favor of the comic book fantasy that the author provides as cover for her literary intent.
Children between the ages of 12 to 18 will be broadsided by the utter insanity of Holly lacing her best friend's root beer– a best friend that defended her from gossip mongers when the school whispered of her promiscuity, who sat with her day after day during her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head, who was willing to give up her dream of Princeton for friendship – Holly, in the culmination of an all-out psychotic break, laces her best friend's root beer with a controlled substance in order to willfully send Savitri into a coma. The expectation Holly has in performing such a disturbing action is that Savitri will enter the Shadowlands to save Corey. The act nearly kills Savitri.
But the comic book nature of Chasing Shadows makes the existence of the Shadowlands – up to the point when Holly reveals to Savitri that she has drugged her – a plausible option separate from Holly's dementia because comic books do that kind of thing all of the time. Until the moment when Savitri wakes up in the hospital and Holly wakes up in a psyche ward, the mature reader is left wondering…what is going on here. The young reader won't get it at all unless an adult is there to explain it.
Classic bait and switch. Holly's act of insanity is done with a mere 10% of the book remaining and rushes the reader through conclusion so quickly that a mature reader may not appreciate the import of this sequence of events. That mere 10% has a lot to teach and failed to do so because the author barely took the time. 10% could literally have been a book unto itself had the writer chosen to show respect for her characters. As a not-so-young reader, I came away with a feeling that the author missed an opportunity to say something really important…to college students… about descent into madness.
I do not recommend this book for children 12 to 18, but a mature reader may enjoy it in spite of its plot imperfections. Three and a half stars for lack of follow through though.