You can’t outrun death. But you can face life.


Title: Chasing Shadows

Author: Swati Avasthi, Craig Phillips (illustrator)

Publisher & Release Date: Random House, September 2013

The Hook: Sophomore novel from the author who wrote the incredible Split.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Chasing Shadows is a searing look at the impact of one random act of violence.

“Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit—fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftop to rooftop.

“But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…

“After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?”

Overall Impressions:  Ms. Avasthi’s new novel is just as intense as her first and just as complicated in the personal relationships, how they empower us and how they tear us apart. Mr. Phillips’ graphic novel pages equal her intensity, driving the story forward.

Corey, Holly and Savitri have been best friends for years. The story opens with them racing across rooftops and a moment when one of them could have fallen. But she doesn’t fall – they all safety return to their cars. And as Holly and Corey sit in their Mini for a moment, it happens. A gunman approaches, fires, fires again. Corey and Holly are both hit. When Savitri unfreezes, she manages to call 911, tries frantically to stop Corey’s bleeding, to get them to respond. Holly requires surgery and lies in a medically induced coma for days while she travels with her brother, led by a creature called Kortha, into the Shadowlands, until Savitri’s voice calls her back.

Everyone’s dealing with grief in their own ways – Corey and Holly’s mother and father, Savitri’s mother, classmates and former friends. Some get caught up in trying to find the killer, some in trying to hold onto Corey.

Holly and Savitri are twisted up in loss and guilt – Holly as a survivor and Savitri as a witness. Savitri’s also tied herself in knots because just before Corey was killed, she told him she’d gotten early acceptance at Princeton and she’d always told herself that if she left for collage, she would end the relationship. And now Savitri can’t bring herself to leave Holly behind, and Holly can’t let go of Corey, falling into the stories of superheroes created through pain and her visions of Corey and Kortha. How long do you hold on?

Ms. Avasthi does an amazing job of balancing all the characters, of weaving past and present, of taking the reader through grief, fear, anger and mental illness, bringing all the pieces together. I am struck by the story’s imagery, the police as the city’s biggest gang, the freerunners on roofs, the nooses Holly sees on “deliveries” to Kortha. She and Mr. Phillips have created an amazing, powerful story.

The Highs: The power of Phillips’ illustrations for the Shadowlands. Wow.

The balance of Savitri, Holly and Corey’s relationships with each other Before. They were a trio of friends first. Holly encouraged Savitri and Corey’s romantic relationship but Corey also recognized when he needed to step back to Holly and Savitri’s friendship.

The full, complicated portrayal of the parents and their struggles to help their children.

That Corey’s flaws are addressed as well as his good qualities – he’s not canonized in his death.

The jacket – Holly on the cover, Savitri on the back.

The discussions of loyalty and what it means.

Buzzkills: More of a format issues, but some of the text in the illustrated sections was a little hard to read on my non-color e-reader screen.

And a minor detail gripe – when Holly’s thinking through various comic book heroes and heroines and the role pain has played in their journeys, she references “Jane Grey and the Phoenix,” rather than Jean, which threw me out of the story for a moment. I’m guessing someone’s more of a DC fan than Marvel?

The Source: Bought the e-book.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or a trip to Chicago was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

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