By Sally Gardner
Published by Orion
ISBN 978 1 78062 012 1
Sally Gardner is a unique writer of young adult fiction who very much follows her own path when telling a story. The only certainty you can expect from one of her novels is an imaginative, original tale, told by an author who writes top-quality prose. Gardner isn't afraid to take her characters into dark places where you don't expect them to go. She is a someone who is intent on involving and intriguing her readers.
Gardner's fourth novel for older teens, The Double Shadow, is a stunning example of what young adult fiction can do. With books like this available, it's no wonder that young adult fiction is one area of publishing currently seeing a boom. The Double Shadow is a classy read on every level and will be devoured by both young and older adults who appreciate the experience of losing themselves in a gripping and satisfying novel.
The Double Shadow begins as it means to go on, with a fascinating opening chapter. A teenage girl is looking into a mirror with no idea of who or where she is. She appears to be in a place where there is neither time nor reality. Where the story will go from here is anyone's guess, and Gardner has already gripped us.
The girl is Amaryllis Ruben, a strong and determined young lady who has fallen victim to her father's good intentions. Arnold Ruben is an American millionaire who dotes on his only daughter and will do anything for her. Anything. We are in Europe in the late 1930s and war is on the horizon. Arnold is determined that his beloved child should not be caught up in the horror that is about to be unleashed, and he has taken drastic measures to protect and shield her.
Arnold has built a memory machine to save his daughter from any bad memories. It all began as a means to protect Amaryllis from the trauma of her mother's death, but now the memory machine has taken on a much more powerful role.
The Rubens live in a manor house in the English countryside where Arnold has built an art deco cinema for his daughter. The sinister memory machine is in the cellars of the cinema building. War is coming and the authorities have heard rumours of the machine that only plays happy memories. It would be catastrophic for Britain if this machine were to fall into the wrong hands.
The Double Shadow is brimming with intriguing ideas, plotlines and characters. One of the novel's strengths is the cast of ordinary people who get innocently caught up in Amaryllis' story. Amaryllis herself is a wonderfully drawn character, but she is not, refreshingly, the only interesting player in this tale.
Gardner's The Double Shadow is a story about damage, identity, memory and the future. It is an outstanding read intended for older teens - the novel does explore mature themes that could be disturbing for younger readers.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com