The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere #1)

By Jacqueline West

From Goodreads:

Old Ms. McMartin is definitely dead. Now her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant. When eleven-year-old Olive and her dippy mathematician parents move in, she knows there’s something odd about the place—not least the walls covered in strange antique paintings. But when Olive finds a pair of old spectacles in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside these paintings to a world that’s strangely quiet . . . and eerily like her own Yet Elsewhere harbors dark secrets—and Morton, an undersized boy with an outsize temper.

As she and Morton form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself ensnared in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It’s up to Olive to save the house from the dark shadows, before the lights go out for good.

My type?: This was a cute one. A lighter read, but at times goosebumpy too. Which was fun. I remember thinking: If this is freaking ME out, what about its target audience?!

The best part for me, and the part I looked forward to the most were the illustrations by Poly Bernatene. Their black and white brush-stroked quality fit well with the spooky, shadowy vibe of the story. I am of the opinion that art is always a welcome accompaniment, that it can always add something–no matter the target reader’s age. And I was glad to see it here.

On its surface, the book reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline: spunky young girl with distracted parents gets into all kinds of troublesome, life-saving adventures; there’s even the feline similarity. But the idea of the paintings sets it apart I think. I really enjoyed how West brought the paintings’ interiors to life. And speaking of that feline similarity, the cats are very amusing. I can totally imagine their one-liners cracking me up when I was Olive’s age.

Memorable bit(s): “‘If you wanted to, you could aid the effort by boosting troop morale . . .’ ‘I would be happy to,’ said Olive. ‘Oh good,’ said the cat. ‘Then would you scratch between my ears?'”

“Harvey (the cat) stroked an imaginary mustache.”

“‘I’m strong. I can do it. See?’ Morton made a fist and rolled up the sleeve over one spaghetti noodle-ish arm. There was a moment of silence. Then Olive nudged Harvey and Leopold, who made impressed, supportive noises.”

Recommendation: This seems like a start to a great young reader series, with parts dark and light. For me, it would have been worth picking up at 11 or so just for the illustrations alone. I would have stared, memorizing them endlessly.

Published: June 2010 by Dial Books for Young Readers

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