Shadow Child begins with a pair of estranged twins, one in Hawaii and one in New York City. Kei, who lives in Hawaii, travels across the country to visit her sister, Hana, for an unknown reason, which fills Hana with dread. Yet when Hana gets home, ready to confront Kei, she finds her sister has been attacked, and left unconscious in the bathtub. As Hana cares for her comatose sister, she begins to dredge up their past in an attempt to figure out what brought Kei back into her life. The book switches between Hana and Kei, both in the present and past, which can be slightly confusing on its own. However, interspersed with Hana and Kei’s stories, is that of their mother, who is referred to by a variety of names, making reading even more confusing.
I felt that there were two different stories going on in this book. The story of Hana and Kei’s mother, who I will call Lillie, felt alienated from their story and of a different genre (more classical historical fiction, while this book seems more contemporary literary fiction). While Lillie’s history and journey were the most compelling part of the book for me, I felt that it didn’t fit into the focus of the book, which I saw as Hana and Kei’s own reckoning with their past. I think Lillie’s story could have been fleshed out more and made into its own novel, and be taken out of this one.
Hana and Kei’s narration bored me at first, but as the story went on, and they grew older (and thus the writing more understandable) I found myself more interested in what was happening. The balance between present and past narration, mostly in Hana’s chapters, was lacking. It was as if the present sections were colored grey, but the sections about her past were filled with color, and drew my interest more. I think this has to due with Hana’s characterization, and how she kind of wilted after she left Hawaii, which I think is kind of a cop-out and possibly even out of character for the younger Hana. I am on the fence about Hana, and whether I think she aged realistically… Something for me to think about more, I suppose.
While Lillie’s story, and family history in general, play into Hana and Kei’s stories and how they deal with what happened to them, I think this book is more about their relationship as sisters. I wish the story had been trimmed more to focus more intensely on that relationship, and maybe even given them some time as adults to discuss their past together (which does not happen in the book at all!! I really wanted this…). I enjoyed pieces of this novel, but together, it was a bit disjointed. While I think the cover captures that duality nicely, the book doesn’t quite pull itself together.
Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for an ARC of this book!