My Thoughts on Shadow Baby by Alison McGhee

This book is part of my 2014 Library. Hurrah!

This is exactly the same cover art of the copy I read. From now on and when I write my thoughts on books I read, I will try my best to look for pictures of the exact same covers.

This is another book that I borrowed from my classmate, who also lent me her copy of The Giver. When I finished reading The Giver, which I obviously fell in love with and further compelled me to read more books, I hurried to my friend, returned the book, and asked for another suggestion. Specifically, I wanted something that was kind of similar to The Giver in terms of how it would make someone feel after reading it. Then, the week after my plea, she brought this rather unheard-of title.

Shadow Baby doesn’t really sound interesting, does it? The cover art, too, is kind of dull. So I wasn’t sure if reading this will really give a similar feeling with that of The Giver. Surprise. My friend didn’t actually read either book, which just added both uncertainty and, for good reasons, curiosity! Well, I might as well try reading this, whether or not both books have the same feels.

The synopsis kind of goes like this:

Meet Clara winter (yep, ‘winter’ is her last name). She hates winter, so she hates spelling her name with a capital ‘w’. She’s an eleven-year old girl who lives with her mother of iron will, Tamar, in their humble settlement in some kind of a mountainous place (with frequent snowfall during winter). Clara loves reading books, particularly those that tell the (hi)story of the pioneers, and lusts for words that aren’t used or spoken often. Because of her love for knowing, she starts making up her own theories or stories as to what might have happened to the pioneers. Thus, her school book reports were filled with, well, made-up books that she just imagined. Her teachers would easily be fooled because of her convincing summaries, which were backed up with fake publisher details that sound real. She’s a smart kid like that. 

(That kind of ended up a character introduction, huh? Okay, moving on!)

One day she discovers an old man who seems to be good at metalworking. She decides to interview this old man, Georg (not George) Kominsky, for her oral history project. Perfect. From their meeting, an unusual friendship is gradually being formed. Though the old man was chary with words, Clara’s wild imagination, unending inquisitiveness, and a good grasp of timing when and when not to  say anything to the old man were handy in maintaining a peaceful atmosphere whenever the two are together, in the trailer truck home of his. While learning about the life and lifestyle of the old man in little snippets, and even becoming his apprentice in ‘seeing the possibility out of anything’ (i.e. how to make something out of a metal scrap by evaluating what it can become–a ‘second life’ of a material thrown away by someone else), Clara invents his past, because she hates NOT knowing.

But if Clara is really knowledgeable on a lot of things–especially in the past and those that have to do with the pioneers–and has an incredible grasp of trivial things, she wouldn’t have had to be bothered with her own shadowy past. Apparently, she had a a twin sister who didn’t make it alive after they were born one stormy winter night. That’s everything she knows at one point. Because her mother Tamar, who is inarguable, won’t tell her all the details despite her constant inquiry, Clara winter also imagines what happened that fateful night. 

Will she truly unfold the truth? How will she take the truth? Were she to blame anyone, anything? the damned weather? the damned mistakes?

So, that’s how I think the story went. I honestly got bored reading it until (roughly) the 100-page mark. The narrative seems to jump from place to place. Its flow was hard to follow for an irregular and newbie reader like me, especially so since the setup took long to finally sink in to my feeble mind. Nonetheless, when I had a stronger image of the story and the characters, things began to look interesting and I was able to sit longer with it. It took me a few months (two and half, I think?) to finally finish it, though. I think I read the last third of it in just two days–really fast than when I was just starting on it. And I think that change in reading pace reflects the change in pace in storytelling, too. All of a sudden, more truths were being uncovered and the characters became more driven and resolute with their decisions, which would eventually lead to more heart-breaking and mind-boggling events (for me, at least). These made everything at the beginning somewhat dull, but nonetheless good for the appreciation of this heart-racing scenes at the end.

Overall, the story and characters are nothing short of ordinary. Everyone in this book, while they were given varying degrees of importance, of course, had his/her own story. These side stories didn’t appear annoying in the least or like blots of ink in this beautiful book, even if I didn’t really get a better understanding and sometimes saw them as unnecessary parts. The characters felt real and were just like people who we’re likely to meet in person, too. The conflicts may have been petty, if anything, but it was lovable of the cast to be living their lives and actually being worried over these things that say a lot about their personalities. Nothing’s really special with the plot in retrospect, but it’s the writing that made it so special for me at the same time. This book just left me in awe, deep inside wanting for more, but I have been convinced of the satisfying ending. Strangely, it left me with a fuzzy feeling inside, much like what The Giver did after I read the last sentences.

Maybe the messy manner of storytelling helped in giving off this kind of effect to me. That the scattered plots were just meant to be connected as I approached the denouement. It’s much similar to how it is in life. We can’t figure out everything, or all the details, at once but, instead, learn to appreciate the bigger picture of it and just how everything seems to just work, without our prior knowledge of what every part was supposed to play.

Rating: really liked it

I think I’d really love to read this again, but not anytime soon. I’ll let this feeling sink in, and let myself crave for this book sometime in the future.

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