This is book # 6 completed for MotherReader's 2009 48 Hour Book Challenge (fifth read cover-to-cover). I read it in 2 hours and 15 minutes, and reviewed it in 30 minutes.
Jennifer Bradbury's Shift is a highly satisfying young adult novel. Part road trip book, part coming-of-age story, part character study. It's a mystery, of sorts, but more in the sense of figuring out why than figuring out what. Like one of the earlier titles I reviewed this weekend, it reminded me a bit of some of the Lois Duncan novels that were my favorites as a teen.
Chris and his long-time best friend Win decide to take the trip of a lifetime, biking all the way across the country during the summer after high school. Chris is supported in taking the trip by a loving father carrying regrets for a youthful trip taken. Win's controlling father, on the other hand, expects him to screw up, and return home with the trip incomplete. What happens instead is that Win doesn't make it home at all. Near the end of their journey, Chris gets a flat tire. Win leaves him behind, and disappears. Chris, angry at that point, finishes the trip himself, and heads home alone
Chris' first person story is told in two intertwined narratives. The first takes place at the start of his freshman year, after Win's father sends an FBI agent to ask Chris some tricky questions about Win's disappearance. Other chapters flash back to the lead-up to the boys' trip, and the trip itself. Gradually, the reader learns what Chris does and doesn't know about Win's disappearance. The clues are there, right from the beginning.
I like Chris' voice. It feels like the authentic voice of a somewhat geeky teenage boy, one about to head off to engineering school. For example:
A few months ago we'd been sitting around watching the Discovery Channel on a Friday night because ... well, because we really were that lame. They ran a documentary about this guy who rode his bike from somewhere in Europe all the way down to the bottom of Africa. One of us said, "Wouldn't it be cool to ride our bikes out west?" Win and I hadn't so much as discussed it since, but the notion had sustained me through the most debilitating later stages of senioritis." (Page 11)
Win is a more complex character, harder to like, but worth figuring out. Several of the other characters, even the minor characters, are far more three-dimensional than you might expect from such a relatively slim novel. Even the FBI agent is sympathetic, and far from a caricature.
Earlier today I talked about Jemma Hartman, Camper Extraordinaire as a perfect gift for young girls about to go to camp for the first time. Shift, on the other hand, would be a great gift for high school graduates, especially boys. It covers that transition from high school to college, the evolving of high school friends, and the struggle that some parents have in letting go. All of this is set against a backdrop of an excellent road trip. The boys meet people all along the way, and stay in some unusual places. And there's a mystery. What more can you really ask from a YA novel? Recommended for teens and adults.
Publication Date: May 20, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.