Monday, 16 April 2012

Shift by Em Bailey

I came across Shift by Em Bailey while browsing some ebook store (I don’t actually remember which one, probably Kobo since that’s where I bought it). It was the blurb that first intrigued me, so allow me to post it here:

Olive is not crazy – although there was that incident last year and that spell in the psych ward, but now she’s taking her meds and staying away from the toxic ‘in’ crowd. But when new girl Miranda turns up, Olive knows that there is something very dangerous about her, even if everyone else doesn’t. But who will believe her, when everyone probably thinks she’s crazy anyway? That is, everyone except her best friend, Ami, whom her mother disapproves of for some strange reason. But all is not what it seems in this page-turning thriller and there are twists and turns that you just cannot predict.

This isn’t an SFF book. At most I’d tentatively call it magical realism. It’s full of psychological drama and there is blurring of reality so you’re not always sure what’s real and what isn’t. It’s also a book about mental illness about being weird and about dealing (or not) with those things.

I really loved it.

Honestly, there was only one aspect I disliked about it and it’s not the sort of thing that would bother everyone. The author is Australian (this is her first YA book, but she has written books for younger readers as Meredith Badger) and the book is indisputably set in an Australian coastal town near either Melbourne or Sydney (my theory is Melbourne, but I may be biased). It’s definitely Australia because they have high schools like we do (years 7 to 12) and wear school uniforms in state schools (I only recently learnt this is a bit of an Australian quirk) and, well it all sounded Australian. But. It also felt like the most direct mentions of Australianness had been removed or carefully not mentioned. At one point the main character goes for a run through the forest, not the bush. There’s a scene near a fig tree, which in itself isn’t that strange, but no gum trees were ever mentioned even thought they must have been ever-present. It just bothered me a bit. A setting made slightly generic but not completely. I would have enjoyed seeing more Australia in it.

Mind you, that was a very small component. The rest of the book — the characters, the plot — was top notch. Olive was great. She was a flawed narrator but that was part of the charm. We were so deeply inside her head that we could only guess things she didn’t know herself a little while before they happened. The way some events were foreshadowed, you had to be paying more attention than Olive was to notice.

The other characters were also very believable. Creepy Miranda was particularly well drawn and mysterious to just the right extent. The secondary characters of best friend, ex-best friend and love interest were also well crafted. I’m not sure that I can properly say what I liked about them without spoilers, however.

And the ending was great. A perfect mix of suspense, action and, well, spoilers.

Even though it’s not really fantasy or science fiction, I think this is still the kind of book lovers of SFF YA would enjoy. And lovers of mainstream YA too, particularly of the darker variety. I loved it. One of my top books read this year. (Oh, and isn’t the cover great? It’s particularly apt, too.)

5 / 5 stars

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