The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow, by Emily Ilett

I have been trying to write my review of  The Girl Who Lost her Shadow, by Emily Illett (Kelpies, February 2020 in the US), for the past week, and have found it daunting.  It won the Kelpies Prize, Scotland's award for children’s fiction in 2017, and when it was nominated for the Cybils Awards this fall, I read it with great interest.  It is haunting, moving, and complicated, and I'm still not sure how much I personally liked it. 

Three things are taking place.  First and foremost, a girl named Gail watches her shadow leave her, slipping under the kitchen door.  Her father left a while ago, and her big sister Kay, who had been Gail's beloved partner and fellow explorer of their Scottish island, has been leaving too, disappearing into depression. Her shadow is also gone.  Gail feels that if she can find her own shadow, maybe she can find Kay's too, and bring her back from her depression.  So she sets off to do so.

Her quest leads her to a boy struggling with his own sadness. His parents were killed in a storm, and he has become obsessed with trying to find their shadows, to bring them back.  The storms that hit their island are entities in their own right, with the shadows of all those they killed, people and animals, bound to them, and this boy has found a way to take the shadows for himself.  His little sister, Mhirran, is opposed to her brother's plan, and when Gail meets her, Mhirran joins her journey, and tries to help her find her lost shadow.

And another boy is on a quest of his own, trying to trap a group of boys who are bent on growing rich by killing the endangered shellfish of the island for their pearls. Kay was once passionate about marine life, and was supposed to be helping him....

To find her shadow, Gail must find herself, and the strange journey she takes is lyrical and moving.

I found it the sort of book I had to let myself flow along with.  All the disparate stories came together in the end, but I wasn't at all sure what was happening as I read along and it got stranger and stranger.  I would have liked to have been more grounded from the beginning, with a clearer indication that I was, for instance, on a Scottish island, and quite a large one (Gail doesn't know the other kids, which I though was odd, and it was much more forested than my mental image of Scottish islands....).  But my primary reaction was appreciation for the build-up of the fantastic, and the moving and powerful representation of depression and sadness.

Gail realizes that she isn't just trying to save Kay, but is also finding herself.  And she does so by helping and caring about things beyond her own particular life.  Kay's depression is beautifully described, and my heart ached for her, and for Gail, left unable to reach her sister.

It's a book that I wasn't always sure I was enjoying when I was reading it, because of all the strange things that happen, but it's one I'll never forget.  One of the storms, for instance, personified as a boy, and weighed down with the shadows of those he'd killed, will stick in my mind forever. Mhirran, coping with both the lost of her parents and her brother's destructive approach to bringing them back, which has taken him too away from her, is a character I'll always love.  And Gail herself is deeply relatable, as she figures out who she is, both with and without her sister.

If you're looking for a book to offer a sensitive, introspective kid who cares about the environment, who has the imagination required to fall into a story full of fantastical twists, this is a great pick. I am most of these things, though I think not quite enough of the last to have fully appreciated it.  As I have gotten older, I find I have become more pragmatic in what I look for in a story....

postscript--"Lyrical" is an adjective applied to this book by many others, and I'm now wondering just what it means when book reviews use it as shorthand for a particular sort of book, and if I'm just spewing a buzzword or if I actually am using it meaningfully. From dictionary.com-- lyrical means "expressing deep personal emotion or observations," which is fine as far as it goes, which isn't far enough.  It's also a descriptor of a particular prose style, in which events are described with a poetic attention to mood and metaphor and language, as discussed, for instance, in this how-to post about lyrical writing.  "Good at making mind pictures with strong emotions tied to them" (and not much explained in matter of fact, down to earth terms). is, I think, what I mean when I call a story lyrical.....and this is certainly true of The Girl Who Lost Her Shadow!

1 comment:

  1. Wow. This sounds like an amazing book. I've never heard of anything quite like it. And it's always a bonus for me if a book is set in Scotland. Thanks for telling me about this. I will look for it.


Free Blog Counter

Button styles