Shift: A Review

Shift by Jennifer BradburyChris didn’t know what to expect when he and his best friend Win began their cross-country bike ride the summer after high school graduation. Chris had made all of the needed preparations from packing food to making sure his bicycle was balanced. He made sure Win did the same.

And most of the trip was everything Chris hoped it would be. More, even, than he could imagine when they started the trip in West Virginia.

Until everything started to go wrong.

Fast forward to the weeks after the trip:

After they part ways, Chris finishes the ride in Seattle and hops a bus back home with a week to spare before starting college.

Chris assumes that Win does the same thing.

Chris is wrong.

Now Chris is being hounded by Win’s influential and severely upset father, federal agents and who knows who else. Everyone wants to find Win and bring him home. Chris, in particular, wants answers. He is owed answers. But before Chris can even try to find Win he’ll have to rethink everything about their fateful trip in Shift (2008) by Jennifer Bradbury.

Shift is Bradbury’s first novel.

Shift is a deceptively simple mystery. With chapters alternating between Chris’ current situation getting settled at college and flashbacks to his disastrous road trip with Win, Bradbury presents a surprisingly faceted image of both boys. Expertly handled exposition highlights the changes in both Win and Chris over the course of the trip.

Although the story very much focuses on Chris, and to a lesser extent Win, Bradbury still manages to add some diversity to the cast and also present effective, well-realized female characters in secondary roles.

The clues Chris follows as he tries to figure out the truth behind Win’s disappearance often feel obvious. However they all still build to a satisfying conclusion as Chris works toward the truth. This character-driven story is as much a tense mystery as it is a coming of age story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, Racing California by Janet Nichols Lynch, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Wild Awake: A Review

Wild Awake by Hilary T. SmithSeventeen-year-old Kiri Byrd has the entire house to herself while her parents are on a six-week cruise. Kiri expects to have a tame but Serious summer spent Focusing on Her Art. She has a rigorous practice schedule for her piano repertoire for the Student Showcase. She has important things to discuss with her bandmate Lukas as they prepare for Battle of the Bands (like all of the reasons they can be Serious about the music AND date!).

Kiri’s quiet and Serious summer is completely derailed with one phone call.

Kiri expects retrieving her sister Sukey’s things will be simple. How can it be anything else? But nothing involving her older sister is simple. As Kiri retrieves her possessions and learns more about Sukey and her past, Kiri’s carefully constructed world starts to fall apart in ways that are as devastating as they are beautiful in Wild Awake (2013) by Hilary T. Smith.

Wild Awake is Smith’s first novel. She was also previously the anonymous publishing blogger INTERN. You can find out more about Hilary T. Smith and INTERN’s advice on her website.

Wild Awake is simultaneously effervescent and heart-wrenching as Kiri struggles to make sense of her lingering grief and her own life in relation to it and her family. Filled with twists and turns, Smith weaves an exciting and surprising story about a girl trying to find her way without even realizing she was lost.

While the story is lovely and ultimately quite satisfying, there is a lot of drinking and casual drug use as Kiri works through her conflicted feelings about Sukey and her life. This is apparent from the first page and it makes sense in the story even if it might not make sense for some readers. Because of that and the fact that Kiri reads (in some ways) as older than seventeen, this is definitely a book that skews older with potential for adult crossover (rather than younger with middle grade crossover potential).

Smith’s writing is luminous; Kiri is a heroine who burns brightly with wit and surprising insights. At the same time, the book is erratic and frightening as it shines a light on the dark places in Kiri’s own psyche and her family’s troubled history. Much like Kiri herself Wild Awake ricochets between moments of beauty and ugliness to create a book filled with excellent prose and memorable characters.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

On taking a step back

Don’t stand too close to the gutter while waiting to cross the street. An easy way to gauge if you are, in fact, too close is to wait for a passing bicyclist. If you are close enough for this bicyclist to see you, turn his head, and smile at you while turning a corner you might have a fair indication that you should be closer to the sidewalk.