YA Weekend: When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Paranormal, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Teen (September 12, 2017)
Length: 384 pages
When I Cast Your Shadow is a very different kind of story about a haunting. In it, we follow teenagers Ruby and Everett Bohnacker, twins who are still grieving for their older brother Dashiell following his tragic drug overdose. In life, Dash had been a popular, handsome, and charming young man, but underneath that perfection was also a cruel and manipulative side. Now not even death can stop him, as his devious spirit returns to the world of the living in order to coerce his siblings into helping him finish what he started.
First, Dash sets his sights on Ruby, knowing that her love for him would make her a malleable and compliant target. He invades her mind while she sleeps, convinces her to let him drown her in her dreams, which would then allow Dash to possess her waking body like a puppet. Not content with just having his little sister under his thumb though, Dash does the same thing to Everett next, using the boy’s concern for his twin as a weapon. With the ability to possess both his younger siblings, Dash proceeds to drag his family into a dangerous game, involving Ruby and Everett in his battle against some powerful dark forces in the Land of the Dead.
On paper, this book sounded awesome. The premise hinted at a possible new twist on ghosts and had the potential to be a creepy YA horror. Unfortunately though, the story ended up falling short of my expectations due to poor execution, as well as an overall sense of “strangeness” about it that just didn’t really sit well with me.
First were the unlikeable characters. Dash, whose role made him something of a trickster, was obviously meant to be unpleasant, but instead of making me feel more sympathetic towards Ruby or Everett, this only made me grow more frustrated with both of them. The twins are naïve and exasperating in their own ways. Totally blinded to Dash’s faults and unable to see him for the toxic influence he is, Ruby’s hero-worship of him made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, especially with the strong implications that her love for him went beyond the sisterly-brotherly type. Everett was also infuriating with his tunnel vision and complete lack of agency or ability to make any meaningful impact for most of the story, which is a shame because this was due to his character being treated like a footnote for the first half of the book.
On top of that, it was difficult to form any lasting connection with any of the characters because of how utterly bizarre and unrelatable they were. Most of what they said and did struck me as either strange, silly, or lacked common sense. Character development for Ruby and Everett wasn’t so much as non-existent as it was a complete mess, as they seemed to be always flip-flopping on their motivations or feelings. The worst was Dr. Bohnacker, who would be a loving father one moment, but in the next he would be spouting off some of the vilest, most spiteful things that not even a parent in their darkest moments of grief should ever say—especially in front of their surviving children. Speaking of which, a lot of the dialogue was also clunky and awkward, which often made me cringe and think, “No one actually talks like that.” The less said about the cloying nicknames Dash has for Ruby and Everett the better, and their annoying constant repetition.
To the novel’s credit, the plot was actually quite imaginative, though it would have been better if it hadn’t been so confusing. While I enjoyed the concept behind the Land of the Dead and thought that many of the ideas regarding the spirits and possession were creative and suitably chilling, I was disappointed in the lack of explanation into Dash’s conflict with the story’s main antagonist, Aloysius. He was just the “bad guy”, with no context to justify his endgame.
The result was this muddled narrative punctuated with brief periods of brilliance and clarity—because to be fair, the story here did have some outstanding moments. I just don’t want to make this sound like a terrible book with no redeeming qualities as that is simply not the case, though my ambivalence after finishing this novel did prevent me from giving it more than a mediocre star rating. Ultimately the story, characters, and writing all fell short of my expectations, but hopefully others drawn to this book will end up enjoying it more than I did.