Girl in Shades by Allison Baggio

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Title: Girl in Shades
Author: Allison Baggio
Genre: Contemporary fiction, magical realism
Publisher: Ecw Press, 2011
Source: NetGalley
Read for: Review

Maya Devine's life is complicated. At 11, she is able to see colors around people's heads, and sometimes even hear their thoughts. Add to this the fact that her mother is dying of cancer, refuses to accept medical treatment, and is being hailed as a prophet in her dirty teepee in their yard. Maya has to find a way to feel peace, a task that is difficult for any adolescent, not one with all the complications she is experiencing. This book follows Maya on a path to self-discovery through the catalyst of her mother's illness.

This book sounded so intriguing to me. Lately I've been seeking out books about characters with cancer because I want to work in the oncology field and want to understand all the different emotions and experiences that go along with that diagnosis as much as anyone outside the situation possibly can. The added fact that Maya has some sort of supernatural ability further increased my interest - my few experiences with magical realism have been very positive and I've been wanting to branch out and read more books. I was excited to delve into Maya's world and learn what happens. While the story was an interesting one, overall it feel flat for me.

I think the main reason for my reaction is the disconnectedness of the different events in Maya's life. At first, I thought this was a story about her strange mental abilities. Then I thought it was a story about her mother's cancer. It then shifts into a story about the relationship between Maya and her father, and finishes up with a journey into India to meditate and learn more about her past. There are connections between all of these events. They lead to each other (in ways I can't describe, because it would give away the book's plot twists) but they still felt essentially separate to me. Even though I knew why certain things were occurring, I felt like I was on a bizarre journey, trying to find the meaning behind everything. And the meaning does eventually get revealed, but I'm not sure if it is enough to make up for the disconnect.

The disconnect was not only present in the plot, but also in my ability to relate to the characters. I pitied Maya. I was sad that she had such a difficult life, that so many people turned against her when she needed them most. However, I never liked her. Her constant battle seems to be pleasing the people around her (an obviously impossible task) and even when she does finally take a journey to discover more about her past and get some closure, it is at the prodding of family. She wasn't a horrible character. There was nothing to hate about her. However, there was also nothing to love. A character I feel neutral about usually leads me to feeling pretty neutral about the story as well.

Don't get me wrong - this isn't a bad book. It wasn't torturous to read. The writing is fine. The characters are fine. The plot is full of strange and bizarre things that could have been fascinating, but instead were mildly interesting for me. While Girl in Shades had potential, in the end, it wasn't the book for me.

2 stars

Warnings: some swearing, one "scene," some intense thematic elements

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