The Shadows We Know by Heart
By: Jennifer Park
Publisher: Simon Teen
Publication Date: March 14th, 2017
Leah Roberts’s life has never been the same since her brother died ten years ago. Her mother won’t stop drinking, her father can’t let go of his bitter anger, and Leah herself has a secret she’s told no one: Sasquatch are real, and she’s been watching a trio of them in the woods behind her house for years.
Everything changes when Leah discovers that among the Sasquatch lives a teenager. This alluring, enigmatic boy has no memory of his past and can barely speak, but Leah can’t shake his magnetic pull. Gradually, Leah’s life entwines with his, providing her the escape from reality she never knew she needed.
But when Leah’s two worlds suddenly collide in a deadly showdown, she uncovers a shocking truth as big and extraordinary as the legends themselves, one that could change her life forever.
From debut author Jennifer Park comes a haunting and luminous exploration of love, grief, and the dangerous lies that can bind—or break—us.
WARNING: RANT AHEAD.
Do you know the first reason I thought I wouldn’t like this book? Because Em (apologetically) explained that it was a YA retelling of Tarzan. Not that I normally hate retellings, but I do hate Tarzan. Carefully edited Disney retelling aside, the original Tarzan story is blatantly racist. The one good thing about Shadows is that it wasn’t blatantly racist. (spoiler: there aren’t many other good things about this book). (second spoiler: other spoilers ahead).
OK, let’s start at the beginning. Or rather, let’s just skip the first 100-odd pages, because that’s what the author should have done. There’s a little bit of worldbuilding here…but there’s no excitement to it AT ALL. There are maybe two glimpses of Tarzan Boy in here. The rest of it is just mundane. It’s Leah moaning about her mean parents, sighing over a jerk jock boy, making questionable decisions with her brother Matt, dealing with her high-strung friend Ashley, etc. It all felt rather flat, honestly. The ONLY high point was jerk boy suddenly deciding he was in love with Leah, which was more weird and gross than anything.
Also, despite nothing happening in these hundred-some pages, it was MAJORLY confusing. I mean, I didn’t figure out that Matt was Leah’s brother until almost FIFTY PAGES IN, because the author never bothered to explain this to me. I didn’t figure out that Matt and Sam had been twins until ONE HUNDRED FIFTY pages in. I didn’t learn Leah’s age ever in the entirety of the book, although one passage kind of says she’s a junior in high school (she acts like she’s twelve). The author, probably trying for a mysterious/dramatic air, just kind of dispenses with all of the details that might have actually grounded her wacky, wild plot.
She continues the mysterious/dramatic/actually confusing vibe with the flashbacks to happier, better times. Which, first off, feel unnecessary. But secondly, she really doesn’t feel the need to distinguish them in ANY WAY from the real story–not even a line break. And she doesn’t change the tense at all. Since I was mostly skimming this on the bus, this was an annoying way to throw me out of the narrative every twenty pages or so. I would suddenly realize I had no idea what was going on in the book or who this Reed character was, only to realize that it was YET ANOTHER FREAKING FLASHBACK.
And frankly, the flashbacks were also the worst examples of what was consistently awful characterization. There’s not a single rounded or even interesting character in this entire book. Leah is…annoying at best, a cardboard cutout at worst. And she’s one of the better ones, in that she’s at least not based entirely on a stereotype. Because, you know, pastor dads don’t come in any other variety besides ‘strict to the point of cruel’, best friends always have to be super dramatic, and jerks always have to be hot high school quarterbacks. Tarzan might be the least worst character in here, but he doesn’t speak for this entire section of the book.
And the point at where the author actually realizes there needs to be a plot (around page 125) isn’t much better. SPOILERS AHEAD. Leah *accidentally* ends up in a situation where Tarzan Boy dramatically saves her from a wild wolf, and she decides the previously evil sasquatches aren’t so evil after all. Then, very shortly after, her stupid brother gets her into a car accident, and Tarzan Boy decides to drag her off into the woods despite a broken arm and a concussion. Leah somehow finds this romantic, despite having a massive and possibly life-threatening fever, although Tarzan Boy does eventually come to his senses and get her brother to take Leah to the hospital.
So after Leah ends up at the hospital, she and Matt and Ashley have a pow-wow, and they realize that Tarzan Boy is actually Ashley’s brother Reed, who supposedly died ten years ago along with Ashley’s dad and Leah’s brother Sam (whose supposed death I forgot to mention basically broke her family). They also figure out that the mean parents know this, and that they’ve been lying about a bunch of stuff. So, of course, Leah rallies her friends to break her out of her hospital bed and charge off to warn the Sasquatches about everything, despite her grievous injuries. Also, somewhere in here is a dramatic breakup with the jerkboy boyfriend, because of course this book needs more drama.
This section is where I think all of the flashbacks were supposed to tie together into one grand ‘OOHHHH’, but instead I almost got my eyeballs stuck in the back of my head. This is also where you’re supposed to put together that it’s not instalove between Leah and Reed, because all of the flashbacks show cutesy a little kid crush between them. Unfortunately, all the cute flashbacks came at the expense of actually having characters behave like children. I skimmed most of these not just because they were confusing, but because they sounded as if the author had never seen a child in its natural habitat before.
Anyways, back to the increasingly strange plot: Leah and Co racing out of the hospital to save the sasquatches. And of course they *almost* make it to them before all of the town elders come out of the woods with guns. AND, whaddaya know, it turns out that there’s been this massive town-wide conspiracy going on for ten years, centering around hunting down and killing the sasquatches, with retrieving the lost Tarzan Boy as a secondary goal. So they’re all happy to have found Tarzan/Reed, but then after he explains how he was kidnapped and raised as a replacement baby by the sasquatches, he lets slip that Leah’s brother is actually dead, and all hell breaks loose. Sasquatches get shot, family secrets come to light and are screamed about, it’s all very dramatic. Long story short, Leah gets dragged back to the hospital along with Tarzan Boy, now knowing that her meanie parents have also lied to her about everything and that all is gloom, doom and death. As you can probably sense, I found it hard to care about all of this.
And then comes the grand denouement, where Leah and fam all have a sobbing heart-to-heart over how terrible they are, culminating in a literal group hug. And then Tarzan Boy decides to go back to his real family, the sasquatches, (COUGH STOCKHOLM SYNDROME COUGH), but not before promising to always come back for Leah, who has already decided she won’t go to college, and will instead stay in this crappy town because she’s in lurv and can’t leave him. Role model, much? Fortunately, the book ended there.
OK, I could go on about what else was wrong–probably until I had a proper essay out of this. But I’ll stop the rant here, because hopefully I’ve impressed on you that this book is not worth reading. Ever. Even if there’s no other reading material around for miles, because you’re trapped in the woods by a bunch of sasquatches who want you to be their replacement baby. Nope, not even then.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us. An advanced copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.