By Swati Avasthi
Graphics by Craig Phillips
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Read my review from last year's Diversiverse
Today is the first day of the second annual A More Diverse Universe. It lasts from November 15-17, and all you have to do to participate is write about a speculative fiction book by an author of color.
I've had CHASING SHADOWS in my to-read-and-review pile for about a month. Charlotte reminded me about it in her reminder about this event. Now, CHASING SHADOWS isn't straight-up speculative fiction. It's a contemporary novel that incorporates elements of superhero comics and Hinduism in a very visceral way, which gives some passages the feeling of speculative fiction.
CHASING SHADOWS begins with Holly, Savitri, and Corey running across rooftops. It's a tight-knit group: Holly and Sav are best friends, Sav and Corey are dating, and Holly and Corey are twins. But it's when they get in their cars to go home that tragedy strikes - Corey is shot and killed and Holly ends up in a coma. CHASING SHADOWS alternates between Sav and Holly's points of view, and Holly's point of view alternates between prose and graphic novel panels. It's a wonderful effect that demonstrates her breaks from reality quite well.
I wasn't expecting to ugly cry throughout this book, but I did. Both girls are extremely traumatized and CHASING SHADOWS is about Holly and Sav reclaiming their lives, their futures, and eventually their friendship. Because yes, their relationship is under quite a bit of strain. I particularly liked the way Swati Avasthi wove the cops' search for Corey's murderer into the girls' story. Because Holly was shot and Sav got a better look at the guy, they are defined as only a victim and only a witness respectively. But both girls are victims and witnesses, and those labels are important to their internal story, even if it doesn't help the case.
(Side note: I loved that Sav can't give a great physical description - white, not tall - but notices exactly how the guy walks because that's what is important to her as an athlete.)
Two graphic novels shape the girls' stories. One is a series about the Leopardess, a heroine Holly admires. The other is a telling of the legend that gave Sav her name. The girls are both inspired by these comics and shamed by them, feeling guilty because they weren't fast or clever or something enough to save Corey. Holly's reality is distorted by them, the imagery and iconography bleeding into her waking world. It's a very interesting look at the way that fiction can shape lives. And, in the case of Sav, it's very clear how important her collection of comics starring Indians is to her and the ways it shaped her childhood.
CHASING SHADOWS is a real gut-punch of a novel. It's dark, and heartbreaking, and the triumphs are tempered by tragedy. It's also, I think, the book I wanted when I read WHAT WE SAW AT NIGHT. The freerunning and the mystery are incorporated better into the characters' story, as is the Chicago setting. I don't think I've ever read a book quite like CHASING SHADOWS, and it's more than just the inventive format that makes me say that. This is a book well worth reading.