With so many paranormal titles being published right now, it's easy to feel that the genre is becoming a little tired. Vampires, werewolves and ghosts jostle for shelf-space in bookstores' YA sections, and even dark romance devotees can be wary of taking home yet another over-hyped clone.
While the basic premise of Jeri Smith-Ready's Shade won't be the most unique that you'll hear this year, prepare to be impressed. Because this is a book that's far more than the sum of its parts. Like everyone else born after the Shift, sixteen year old Aura sees dead people. Ghosts of people who died suddenly, to be exact. They're violet in colour, they can appear anywhere they visited in life, and Aura believes that most of them just need a little help moving on. Sometimes they can be helped - for instance, if their killer can be brought to justice - and sometimes they can't... in which case they're in serious danger of turning into angry, dangerous Shades. And when Aura's boyfriend Logan dies tragically on his seventeenth birthday, she finds herself with a ghost as a boyfriend. His parents want justice, but Aura's not ready to let go - and neither is he.
There's a lot going on in Shade. We're introduced to the world the way it looks sixteen years after the Shift, and it's a fascinating place to be. Everyone younger than our main character Aura has seen ghosts since the moment they were born. Everyone older is free to walk around in blissful ignorance most of the time. Around this basic premise Jeri Smith-Ready has constructed a complex and richly detailed world where the Shift defines how those sixteen and under live their daily lives. For example, the colour red wards ghosts off, so you can tell someone's age from the colour of their clothing... unless they're sneaking into a club, in which case they'll be forced to put up with ghosts harassing them all evening. And when someone dies suddenly, their loved ones are divided into those who still get to hang out with them everyday and those who can grieve in the normal way. Then there's the mysterious government organisation who want to recruit post-Shifters to work for them.
As narrator, sixteen year old Aura is the type of heroine who, despite being in love, has a brain in her head and isn't afraid to use it. She's believable and flawed and all-round excellent. While she's devastated by Logan's death, and definitely blames herself a little, she sets her own boundaries and doesn't respond well to macho possessiveness. Her voice crackles with dry humour, and she even manages to convince the reader that she really does have a deep connection with not one but two swoonworthy guys: long-time boyfriend Logan, who died on the very night he and Aura were planning to go all the way, and a mysterious-in-a-good-way newcomer... who isn't a ghost. Alongside the romantic storylines, the consequences of Logan's fatal drug overdose are explored in a way that ultimately has a postive message without ever seeming preachy or detracting from the story at hand. As we accompany Aura on her journey through the grieving process, readers also get a real sense of how a person gradually puts their life back together after losing a loved one.
Shade is a truly enthralling addition to the YA paranormal genre. It's got it all: a strong heroine, fantastic world-building and compelling romance. In fact, it's the kind of book that'll remind you why you liked this genre so much in the first place.
Out: 2nd September 2010, UK
A big thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for providing a review copy of this book.