Book of the Month, August: The Shadow Year

The unnamed narrator of The Shadow Year lives with his family in the suburbs of 1960s Long Island.  He has an older brother, Jim, and younger sister, Mary.  Their dad works three jobs and their mom is an alcoholic who can barely function at times.  Their grandparents live in the garage converted into an apartment.  It may not be an ideal life, but it’s what the kids know, and the adults (maybe not so much their mom) help them make the best of things.

The kids, more or less, live in their own world.  Their dad is always at work, their mom is usually passed out on the couch, and their grandparents are often busy doing old people stuff, but they do make time for their grandchildren when the kids decide to come in from outside or up from the basement.

The brothers have a replica of their neighborhood in the basement they made with a lot of cardboard, clay and a ton of patience.  They call it Botch Town, and they created everything, including their house and street, down to the finest details their young hands could render.  They spend the closing days of summer moving cars and people around Botch Town as they dread the oncoming school term.  Mary spends most of her time in the basement smoking cigarettes and playing school with her imaginary friends.

It’s in the final throes of summer that a prowler begins to stalk the streets.  It is reported that a man in a white coat, and driving a white car, has been peeping in peoples’ windows at night.   The neighborhood is thrown into a tizzy which becomes a full blown panic when a kid, a fellow sixth grader with the narrator, goes missing.

When school finally starts with a high degree of caution and concern for the students, especially the little ones, the narrator and his brother discover something quite odd:  Mary seems to be able to predict the movements of the prowler, whom they’ve nicknamed Mr. White.  She does this by moving the cars and figures around Botch Town.  She’s not sure how she’s able to do it, it just comes to her.  It’s not long before the replica of Mr. White and his car are moving closer to their house in Botch Town.

The Shadow Year is a tough book to describe.   It’s full of mystery and wonder with a good helping of fear.  It’s a feeling.  You either get it or you don’t.  And it will not be a book for everyone; some people, if they finish it, will utterly hate it for it’s unanswered questions.  Others will scratch their heads, and then there will be those last few readers who will know nothing but the feeling of the book and swear allegiance to it.

Stephen King once wrote that books are portable kind of magic.  They are a magic we can take everywhere, and they are a magic that can take us anywhere.  The Shadow Year is a particular kind of magic:  the magic we only know in childhood and think we still know as adults.

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