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Shadow Baby by Alison McGhee


Let me tell you a girl of eleven is capable of far more than is dreamt of in most universes ... a girl of eleven is more than the sum of her age. Although it is not often stated, she is already living in her twelfth year; she has entered into the future. From pages 4-5

I told him stories are the way you look at the world. That stories are your salvation. Stories are your salvation. From page 228

There may be no one [my mother] loves more than me, but every time she looks at me she sees my sister ... Warring ghosts fight each other inside my mother's heart, and the battles have made her stern and strong. From page 229


I have a lot to say about this book, and I suppose that means it had more of an impact on me than I initially thought. When I was reading one of the last chapters I was thinking about how I was disappointed in this book... mostly because I felt that nothing really "happened" in it. Upon further reflection I've realized that this is not really true. Perhaps the reason I felt like this is because it's a quiet kind of book that sneaks up on you and also because it is largely a book that depicts the very colorful inner life, internal thoughts, and vivid imagination of an eleven year old girl. Shadow Baby by Alison McGhee is a coming of age story; it is very much a story about how Clara winter (spelled with a lower case 'w'--she has profound reasoning behind this quirk) sees others and the world around her. This is also very much a book about a reader and a lover of words.

Clara loves reading; she loves words--one of her favorite words is ingenuous because it's "perfect ... the way the 'g' slides into the 'enuous.'" She is also fascinated by pioneer history, and she hates the dark and the cold and the desolation of the winter season and what it took from her all those years ago, and that is why her last name is spelled with a lower case 'w.' Clara is an unusually precocious, eccentric eleven year old with an extremely vivid imagination, and one winter she decides to befriend an old man in her town named Georg. Clara likes to make up stories and sometimes she forgets what she's made up and what is the truth; at first I thought she was an unreliable narrator. However, Clara has no trouble realizing or remembering what is part of a story she made up and what is fact. The novel is as much about Clara and the year she puts away childish things as it is about her made up stories and how she uses them to fill in the blanks of her history--namely, the absence of her father, grandfather, and twin sister--that her mother refuses to talk about and to cope with these painful absences. In the short months long friendship between Clara and Georg, she learns a lot from the old man; specifically Clara learns how to see the possibility of both beauty and usefulness in the discarded detritus of others' daily lives. She is forever changed by her friendship with the old man.

This quiet kind of beautiful story with its beautiful writing is meant to be read slowly--to be savored and reflected upon as one reads. This wasn't how I read most of the book and in some ways I regret not taking the time to appreciate the story for what it is-- a coming of age story of a young girl and the account of the year that demarcates where her childhood ended and her adulthood began.

This book is available upon request from Lebanon Community Library. I recommend that you check it out the next time you visit.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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