By Kiersten White
Art story by Jim Di Bartolo
Available April 29, 2014 from Scholastic Press
Read my review of Mind Games
You might wonder what this book is about, since the title is super bland and the cover features pretty colors, but little other detail. Then, by design, it's a little hard to figure out what it's about once you start reading. There are plucky children and zombies and mysterious meetings, and it all ties together in the end in a cathartic, rewarding ending.
Jim Di Bartolo is an artist probably known by most for his work in his wife Laini Taylor's novel LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES. He conceived of IN THE SHADOWS and created somewhere around half of the finished work. His half of the book is a wordless graphic novel following a young man with a distinctive scar through the years. Since there are no words, the reader must piece together who the man, his enemies, and his goals are for themselves. The art is beautiful and full of little details that are quite rewarding upon a reread. (After I finished IN THE SHADOWS, I went back though the graphic novel sections only.)
Kiersten White's half of the book is a prose novel following a pair of sisters, a pair of brothers, and a mysterious orphan boy. They come together partially because they're the only young people in the boarding house, but they stick together after they witness a suicide-that-didn't-happen and seek to figure out what in the world happened. I loved the feel of White's prose, which had a nostalgia to it. As events got creepier, it still felt like the characters' world was constantly bathed in golden sunlight. It made an interesting contrast to the increasingly modern graphic novel interludes, and made me question by perception of when the prose events where happening in relation to the graphic novel events.
I loved how much IN THE SHADOWS prompted me to use my mind. It is an easy read in many ways. Di Bartolo's sections have no words, White's could come from a middle grade novel. But the connections between events and characters are obscured. One half of my mind was unraveling the mystery with Minnie, Cora, Thomas, Charles, and Arthur, and the other half was unraveling the mystery of the boy with the scar, and both halves exclaimed every time they recognized a green necklace or a man with a beard.
IN THE SHADOWS is a bold, inventive work that will delights fantasy fans. It's dark, clever, and a brilliant mix of conventional and unconventional storytelling, right down to the two endings. Life and death are perennial themes of literature, and White and Di Bartolo speak of them beautifully.