By Swati Avasthi; illustrated by Craig Philips
Does anyone remember my love for Swati Avasthi’s first book, Split? It’s one of the few books that I have an immense urge to reread every few months. It was absolutely incredible, and I’ve been patiently (eagerly) waiting for her sophomore book since.
But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…
After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?
In this intense novel, Swati Avasthi creates a gripping portrait of two girls teetering on the edge of grief and insanity. Two girls who will find out just how many ways there are to lose a friend…and how many ways to be lost.
Chasing Shadows a tricky book to review without giving away major plot points. That said, it is these unexpected plot points that really make the book come together and shine, thus this review is going to be annoyingly vague as I hint at things without really telling you anything.
At the core of this book is the friendship between two girls, Savitri and Holly. Holly’s twin brother Corey (and Savitri’s boyfriend) is murdered and Holly spirals into a dangerous web of grief, taking Savitri along for the ride. There’s something intensely personal about the many manifestations of grief explored in this book, and Avasthi (and the illustrator, Craig Philips) deftly explores these different aspects through both prose and imagery.
This resonating friendship is one of those inch-wide, mile-deep types of things, where every dark, reckless, frayed emotion bubbles up to the surface for the reader to see; the dual narration really captures each girl’s mindset and motivations without ever feeling trite. As Savitri tries desperately to save Holly and hang on to the friendship they shared, Holly is driven deeper in to the darkness, confounded by reality and her nightmares.
I liked the groove of the book, I don’t know if that was because my head was spinning from all the freerunning (super cool), but I thought the writing had a certain sense of style. Short, clipped sentences are used to describe both emotion and action, and little details, such as the time-stamp for Savitri’s chapters added the extra oomph. Also, I loved that Savitri was Indian, and that Indian mythology was weaved in to the plot, YA Diversity ftw! There is almost a fantastical element to Holly’s chapters, and I thought that the illustrations were immensely helpful for gaining insight into her mind.
The plot with finding the murderer moved along well, but I didn’t find that story arc particularly powerful. I thought that it gets the ball rolling for exploring, testing, and straining the relationship between Holly and Savitri, but before long, I cared more about the characters than the “whodunnit”. The aftermath of the "whodunnit" part, though, was fantastic. There are a few side characters I wish were fleshed out more, as well as some plot points I felt were glossed over.
Rating in HP Terms: Exceeds Expectations
Recommended for: people who don't know what freerunning is (that means you, hehe)
Acknowledgements: Fabulous! 4.5/5
8.4/10 – because I really think Chasing Shadows is special. As Avasthi carefully moves the plot along, she unravels the characters and their psyches. Going in to this book, I didn't know too much about it so the interesting turns in character development were unexpected, but welcome. The illustrations added a layer of mystique and I particularly admired her portrayal of grief, friendship, and the ties that keep people together. The freerunning aspect was wonderfully introduced and integrated, and undoubtedly unique (and I loved it!). My only reservations are that the murder arc didn’t exactly hit home for me and a few unpolished secondary characters, but that said, this book is much more than that and what it does well, it does really damn well.
author website / twitter
Also, stay tuned because next week I have the wonderful honour of interviewing the author! :)