Friday, May 22, 2009

Two Books I Loved This Month

I'd wanted to read Jennifer Bradbury's Shift for a long time; lots of people recommended it to me, sometimes without even having read it, because they know I'm into cycling. My longest trip so far has been three days/150 miles--nothing even close to the two months/multiple thousand miles covered by Chris and Win in Shift--but it was enough to give me a taste; enough to be able to assure you that Shift is brimming with authenticity. The never-know-what's-going-to-happen excitement, the shifts between wanting to ride together and feeling like it's too much trouble, and most of all, the instant awesome-cred you get when people find out that you're on a bike trip--Bradbury captures it all, with a fresh and easy tone that never makes the book feel like it's a thinly-veiled recap of her own (significant) bike adventures.

Shift is a bike trip story, a college story, a mystery. Why did Win abandon Chris just a short ride from the end of their journey, and where is he now? I had some theories, but I wasn't ever exactly sure. Bradbury mentions Chris McCandless early on (that's the Into the Wild guy), which pleased me, because of course someone like Win would know all about Chris McCandless and spend a lot of time thinking about him. Mentioning McCandless might be a little bit risky, because readers might have said "just a riff on Into the Wild", but instead I think the name-drop makes the world of Chris and Win seem more real, more like the one I live in. (Except that McCandless was not found frozen solid, as a character states--it was midsummer--but I accepted that because the character wasn't an expert, like Win was.)

In an interview, Bradbury said this was about friendship in general, not specific to boys. I was surprised, because one of the elements I loved best was that this seemed to me a really accurate portrayal of boy best friendships. I don't know how Bradbury did it, but this is one of my favorite male voices since Rats Saw God. And I would never believe a story that unfolded the way this one did if it had been about two girls.

Shadowed Summer by Saundra Mitchell is just a few months old, and is creating big excitement. I'm afraid to say much of anything for fear of spoilers. Eventually, I'm sure, this book IS going to be spoiled; read it now before you know too much. You don't even want to know what the general themes and plot elements are.

People are definitely agreeing that Shadowed Summer has a terrible cover. We complained because The Underneath had a cover that looked cozy on a book that was sad and hard-hitting; the cover of Shadowed Summer is worse, because it has a cover that looks like it belongs on a bad book on a good book.

It was already on my to-read list(here's the review that made me want to read it originally), but a review from my friend Claire made me hop on a bike in the rain and ride ten miles round-trip in the rain to pick up a copy immediately. (Seriously, no hyperbole.) Claire didn't even say anything--just rated it five stars and marked it "love-love-love". I had to know right away what it was about this ordinary-looking book that made her praise it so highly. A few hours later, I knew.

Shadowed Summer--in which three young teens try to solve an old mystery in their town--has a lovely Southern voice and a dreamy quality that's not overdone. The mystery isn't obvious; there are scary moments. Up until close to the end, I was thinking that it was a good mild suspense story. Then something surprising is revealed, but it's the kind of surprising that hits you because it makes total sense--and it also turns the book into something much bigger and more important than you'd ever have thought.

Read this book now, then pass it around to middle schoolers of your acquaintance. It's possible we'll be hearing more about this one come awards season.


Elizabeth said...

Thanks for that review, because I've seen Shadowed Summer on other blogs, but totally had been turned off reading it by the cover.

Besides the fact that it just looks like a bad book, why do the girl's eyes look so dead? Creeeeepy.

CAS said...

I really should start writing a sentence or two for those... but I'm totally flattered that you would bike in the rain based on the stars and shelves even without a review. Wow! I'm glad it didn't disappoint :).