12 January 2010

Shadow Baby by Alison McGhee

Flap Copy: "Eleven-year-old Clara winter (she prefers the lowercase and she has her reasons) is struggling to find the truth about her imssing father and twin sister, but her mother refuses to reveal any information. When Clara begins interviewing her elderly neighbor Georg Kominsky for a school assignment, she finds that he is equally reticent about his own concealed history. Precocious and imaginative, Clara invents Mr. Kominsky's history just as she invents lives for the people missing from her own shadowy past. In this remarkable story of family and friendship, the unlikely pair of Clara and Mr. Kominsky embarks on a journey that leads them to discover what matters most in life and to find the scattered pieces of themselves."

I really, really wanted to like this book. I was a shy, quirky kid and lived a lot of the time in my own head. I had an elderly neighbor who was not only my mentor but for most of my childhood absolutely my best friend and confidante, a lady who, like Georg Kominsky did for Clara, helped me find myself. But I could not get through Shadow Baby with any ease - I found reading more than a few pages to be like pulling teeth. And it wasn't the story's fault, I certainly related to it and was interested by the overall lack of plot and the overwhelming focus on internal monologue and inventive storytelling. McGhee's writing was engaging, if at times a bit repetitive. But there was something missing, something crucial that made me struggle with every page. It was like the story had all the right components, but no life. Clara wasn't cutely precocious, she was annoyingly so. Her mother's complete lack of empathy was such a stereotypical view of the struggling single mom, it didn't do her or her own tragic experiences any justice. The only character I found redeeming was Georg, and we barely saw or knew him, we only knew Clara's overly precious ideas about him. I give this book 2.5 stars, I think McGhee could have done a lot better.

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