Leslie's Reviews > The Shadows

The Shadows by Jacqueline West
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's review
Aug 22, 2011

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bookshelves: juvenile, chapter-book-8-11, fantasy, middle-school-11-14, part-of-a-series, book-one
Read from August 21 to 22, 2011 , read count: 1

First, I would like to say that I am going to go on what seems like a bit of a tangent about the jacket copy on books before telling you that I really did like the first two volumes of The Books of Elsewhere and that I am looking forward to the next volume. Thank you.

I had seen Jacqueline West’s The Books of Elsewhere : The Shadows everywhere when it was first released, but lost it in the ToBeRead pile until seeing the second book’s appearance. The wonderful blog “Shelf Elf” was the one to convince me to add this juvenile fiction to my list with her caution in mind: West’s story had become all to easily mixed-up in the indelible ink of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline.

At the moment, I think the main reason this book is being compared to Coraline is because they both share many plot points: an odd child with indifferent, busy parents moves into a creaky old house, girl discovers she can access an alternate world inside the house, evil force is out to get her, she has to save the day, and talking cats. When you look at that list of similarities, it’s no wonder that I was constantly waiting to be dazzled as I was when I read Coraline. Perhaps I kept on forgetting that I wasn’t reading Coraline?

While I didn’t have too much issue confusing the two, likely due to having been instructed to adjust my expectations by “Shelf Elf’s” very helpful review,* I echo the caution. Do not take the “For fans of” suggestion as an elevatory remark. I agree with “Shelf Elf” in that “I don’t think you can put [The Books of Elsewhere : The Shadows] in the same category as Gaiman’s stories.” That isn’t to say either of us think West’s book is awful, it just is not as good as Gaiman.

As for “fans of Roald Dahl,” that was the reference that confused me more. Perhaps I haven’t read enough Dahl, so I asked the resident Dahl fanatic–newly-11-year-old Natalya aka the daughter. She begins by saying, “It has to be Funny.” “Any funny book is Dahlesque?” I challenge. “Whimsical, then,” she growled. She asserts that even when Dahl is more serious, like in Matilda, there is a sense of Whimsy that is Dahlesque. Two primary keys of Dahlesque N insists on are: Wit and Whimsy. So I wasn’t mistaken.

I found The Shadows to be a charming read. There is a sense of humor that would near whimsy just as the darker elements would near all-out-creepiness–both fall just short of the mark. Without the expectation that The Shadows is “for Roald Dahl or Neil Gaiman fans,” the “just short” causes no harm. This is just one of those occasions where the jacket copy’s enthusiasm has the potential to devastate the story. Some names carry a lot of weight and West’s Books of Elsewhere are not quite ready for them yet.

What The Books of Elsewhere are ready for are those young fans of stories with haunted houses, dangerous magic, intrepid young heroines, and talking cats. I tore through the pages as Olive found herself in one tense situation after another. West keeps a nerve-wracking suspense-building pace, taking unexpected but nicely plotted turns straight into a thrilling ending. Her similes are fantastic, her way with describing the setting is beautifully done. The Shadows is a well-written book.

Olive is wonderfully realized, a bit lonely, dangerously curious, and daring. Her parents are stinking adorable, and though oblivious, not completely absent (only when convenient). The cats are perfectly introduced, that we are able to be suspicious of them when appropriate is deftly handled, as are the mysteries as they unfold and complicate the story line.

The House is given its own sense of ‘living and breathing’ which is an ever appreciative creep-factor. And the use of the uncanny should produce some shivers–the painting people–Morton. I wasn’t as disturbed by the idea as the novel would have it, as Olive experienced it. The smooth, paint-stroked skin, the warm hands but lack of heart-beat–if they had been mannequins? I guess I was horrified with the idea of becoming trapped, of being watched, of being hunted… I know I felt dread at several turns–felt the impulse to curse Olive for her stupidity. Did I feel a haunting, a terror? I was worried as to what menace would prevail? The Shadows was suspenseful, but I am really unsure of what held the novel back from being truly scary. It had so many elements. Perhaps it was my age?

The Shadows was not scary [for me] but it was an entertaining read and I can easily recommend it. I didn’t find it “haunting” or “moving,” but it was “funny” at turns–cute–[oh, man]–and sweet. I was ready to inhale the following volume Spellbound.

L @ omphalosksepsis

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