Review: “The Shadow Girl” by Jennifer Archer


14815481Title: “The Shadow Girl”

Author: Jennifer Archer

Genre: YA contemporary, biopunk, magical realism

Publication Date: April 9, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Sometimes I forget for an hour or two that she’s with me. Sometimes I convince myself that she was only a dream. Or that I’m crazy.

For as long as Lily Winston can remember, she has never been alone. Iris, a shadowy figure who mimics Lily’s movements and whispers in her ear, is with her always—but invisible to the rest of the world. Iris is Lily’s secret.

But when Lily’s father is killed in a tragic accident, his cryptic final words suggest that he and Lily’s mother have been keeping secrets of their own. Suddenly, Iris begins pushing Lily more than ever, possessing her thoughts and urging her to put together the pieces of a strange puzzle her father left behind. As she searches for answers, Lily finds herself drawn to Ty Collier, a mysterious new boy in town. Together, Lily and Ty must untangle a web of deception to discover the truth about her family, Iris . . . and Lily’s own identity.

☆: 3/5 stars – a solid debut, but disappointingly executed.

Review: I absolutely love contemporary stories that have a magical reality or sci-fi spin to them. I love how they’ve exploded within YA, especially, as of late. And “The Shadow Girl” is a good title to add to that canon. But feels like it follows an almost set formula now for the magical reality/sci-fi contemporary genre – there’s a mystery, some kind of love triangle with someone of dubious motives, and something that gets that mystery out into the open. Sadly, “The Shadow Girl”, while a totally solid and well-written book, falls into this trap.

What lured me in was the mystery – and Archer does that really well. Is Lily crazy? Or is Iris some kind of creature from another world, or a ghost, whispering in her ear? She also teases us with the possibility that because Iris exists, Lily might be an unreliable narrator, and if you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you’ll know the almost fetishistic love I have for the idea/possibility/use of the unreliable narrator trope. And for awhile, all was well – the mystery continued and the way Archer used her sensory imagery to really build that mystery and unreliable narrator trope was pretty impressive. She did the same thing with the worldbuilding, building a both inner and outer world for Lily, which is really hard to do, and really hard to keep balanced. And Archer does a great job with this.

Until the romance shows up.

It’s another love triangle, guys, and it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. Yes, I can see how Archer almost made this into a symbolic choice – should she go with Ty and unravel her own past and that of Iris too, or go with childhood bff, and not dig into her own past and identity? But that symbolic choice isn’t fully fleshed out – and had it been? I would’ve been able to forgive the use of the love triangle, because of those symbolic life-changing choices. The fact that one of said dudes also has a dubious past and secrets also felt very scripted, and at times, stilted and awkward. Neither love interest really appealed to me, and it felt like the romance was there because it had to be there as a use of tension  – when really? Lily/Iris’ identity mystery was plenty constant tension enough without having to use the romance aspect.

The worst part of the romance aspect? It literally takes Lily up until the end of the book to decide who she wants to be with. Seriously.

I also felt like because of the romance bit, almost an entire third of the book really dragged. I did something I rarely do – I skimmed and skipped to where we actually start finding out about the mystery surrounding both Iris and Lily. I almost NEVER do this, you guys, and when I do, I usually feel really guilty. But here? I’m not even sorry. I just wanted to know what was really going on. From that point on, things got interesting and my attention was there again (especially with the delicious promise of the biopunk aspect), and I felt like the book I’d started reading in the first place was back.

Mostly, it felt like in that middle third, Archer kind of lost her way. Another draft might have helped this book a lot before it got to the ARC stage of things. But she does good work with constructing Lily and Iris as her MCs and a decent job with her main cast as a whole, as well as the worldbuilding , which was awesome. It was how the romance worked into the plot that needed the most work.

But that’s just how I feel about it. “The Shadow Girl” is out now in North America from HarperTeen, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!

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