Holy Sweet Mother of dubs-tee-eff. I'm still wrapping my thoughts around this one. Here's what I've come up with: the Brothers Grimm meet up with Pablo Picasso during his Blue Period for a drink. They decide it's going to be a GREAT idea to make a Before Sunrise martini with a younger lad and lassie splashed with the Neverending Story and shaken with the surrealism of a dream.
You with me?
On second thought, I am not really sure if it's possible to adequately define This Is Shyness. Leanne Hall has managed to create something that feels entirely 'other'. You can't put the book into any neat little category; it's simply young adult, and that's about as far as you are going to in terms of categorizing.
The good news is that this cocktail goes down fairly smoothly. Hall's narrative swings through from start to finish, and Wildgirl and Wolfboy both are intriguing, resourceful characters who come to bat with their own set of problems. Wildgirl comes from a way-less-than-privileged background and is dealing with some serious B.S. at school because of it. Wolfboy is living in a singular pit of sorrow - you know the kind - it's the sort of hole a person has to fight and claw to get out of. It's a random night that these two find each other, and it leads into an absolutely crazy, no-rest-til-dawn adventure. Hall's writing really shines in her characterization of these two (I've added quotes for this book - lovely, aching, sharp), and you will get to know them and their thoughts through the wonderful internal dialogue she gives to both.
Beyond that, it's difficult to discuss the book without giving too much away. Shyness is just over the border from where Wildgirl lives, yet she never heard how the sun doesn't rise there. The fact that you can't really pin down the setting makes reading the book feel a bit like falling down Alice's rabbit hole - you can't tell if this is an alternative reality, a futuristic setting, a paranormal community - everything feels familiar, but it's not - I won't say it's like a dream - it's a bit more maddening than that. It's something akin to Dorothy's returning to Oz and finding it turned upside down, or Mac's reaction to there being a 'secret' Dublin that's disappeared off of maps and been forgotten about in the Fever series. It's a familiar unknown.. I got the feeling that the darkness which encompasses Shyness is somehow connected to Wolfboy's sadness, who holds special status in that community. Or perhaps his sadness is a singular symptom of its overall origin. Things happen: embarrassments endure, deaths occur, addictions develop, social pressures constrict, etc. It's the self-determination and the connections with others, the support that gets you through. Shyness doesn't feel like a place of punishment for the things that have happened to you in life, but more like a place of suspension, a consequence of not talking about and moving through the things that have happened.
The balance and two-person dual narrations make this a fast-paced story that doesn't lag. The surreal situations and people they encounter hold your interest and sometimes boggle you. There is a play-counter-play between Wildgirl and Wolfboy's POVs, and it really offers insight into just how easily looks and words can be misconstrued, especially between two people who hold an attraction and growing affection between them. There is a sweetness in their vulnerability that helps you connect to them as characters. There is a bare bones honesty in their hushed confessions that make you repect their experience. I'd love to be friends with them both.
However, that same connection also drove me nuts with not getting clear answers to some questions. The upside is that This Is Shyness is so 'other', so unlike anything else that I've read, that it gave me the ability to 'just deal' with the lack of answers. Here's the thing with with this book: as with any new person you might meet, you have to take the book as it is. There is no comparing it, no standard to hold it up against, not with this story. It has a beginning, middle, and an end that doesn't feel like an end - it feels like a continuation. That's not to say that there is a sequel, because in all honesty, I get the feeling that there won't be one (although I would love answers to my questions). It's more like the characters are going to 'swing through' if that makes sense.
But, really, 'swinging through' does make sense in This Is Shyness. The story here is not in some neatly wrapped up plot; it's in the character details: the shy looks, the hanging conversations, the private confessions and resolute actions. They're like puzzle pieces that make up the same picture, but don't quite match up at the edges. You try to force the edges into each other, rather than just let them complement each other, then you are going to come up frustrated. But if you let the story just 'be' what it is, then you have something singularly special. This Is Shyness is the quirky friend you might never fully understand, but once you stop trying to figure it out and pick it apart, you will fall into it's unique personality and truly appreciate it for what it is. And the story is about two young people who don't find answers, but by coming together, they come to terms with facing the questions. There's a lot of beauty in that.