Mar 9, 2017

Review: The Shadows We Know by Heart by Jennifer Park

TitleThe Shadows We Know by Heart
Author: Jennifer Park
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publishing Date: March 14, 2017
Pages/Format: 304, ARC
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In this haunting and luminescent debut novel, a girl’s complicated family life starts to unravel after she finds herself falling for a mysterious boy who lives in the forest behind her house.

Leah Roberts’s life hasn’t been the same since her brother died ten years ago. Her mother won’t stop drinking, her father can’t let go of his bitter anger, and Leah herself has a secret she’s told no one: Sasquatches are real, and she’s been watching a trio of them in the woods behind her house for years.

Everything changes when Leah discovers that among the sasquatches lives a teenager. This alluring, enigmatic boy has no memory of his past and can barely speak, but Leah can’t shake his magnetic pull. Gradually, Leah’s life entwines with his, providing her the escape from reality she never knew she needed.

But when Leah’s two worlds suddenly collide in a deadly showdown, she uncovers a shocking truth as big and extraordinary as the legends themselves, one that could change her life forever.

Book in One Word: HEART

The Shadows We Know by Heart had a very unique aspect to its premise that made me absolutely, positively need to read it: Sasquatch. You read that right: Big Foot. When I knew this book would have the elusive, are-they-real-or-are-they-a-hoax creatures, I knew I had to have it. So when I saw there was an ARC giveaway, entered it, and freaking won, I was ecstatic--this very interesting sounding book, which was probably one of my most anticipated of 2017, was going to fall into my hands sooner rather than later. But once I got the book I was slightly worried (especially since I'm a mood reader and can be very picky about books and also pick them apart): I was going to read a YA book with Big Foot. The potential for ridiculousness was very, very high. And now that I've read it, I can very honestly tell you: there was not a damn thing to be worried about.

You gotta love it when a book pulls you in from page one, and that's pretty much exactly what The Shadows We Know by Heart did. What I read is usually based on my "mood": so, I'm a mood reader, and if I'm not in the mood for something then it's not going to go well. Because of that I picked up The Shadows We Know by Heart just for the purpose of testing it out, for I really didn't think I was in the mood for it at all. (See also: my fear it would be ridiculous because, ya know, Big Foot.) I was going to give a couple pages a try, but then I read a couple more, and a few more, and a few chapters--and ended up finishing it later that night at 3:30 in the damn morning. So I guess you could say it was good.

THIS BOOK THOUGH. One of the pros is that it's not what I expected it to be. I knew it had Sasquatch and that there was a human boy with them, but that was all I remembered from the synopsis. (Honestly, all I kept thinking about and lusting over this book for was Sasquatch Sasquatch Sasquatch.) I thought it'd be a lighter novel, something more whimsical and with a slightly Middle Grade feel, but I was wrong. (Wow was I wonderfully wrong about a lot of things when it comes to this book.) The Shadows We Know by Heart isn't even a book about Sasquatch--that's just a part of the story. What it is is something filled with depth and angst, heartbreak and hope, and touches of fear and mystery. It's about Leah Roberts, a preacher's daughter whose life was turned upside down and never turned right side up when her brother Sam died ten years ago. Her remaining brother--Sam's twin Matt--seems to hold it together enough, but it's their parents who have become unrecognizable and otherworldly. Leah's mom loses herself in her hidden flask, while her father focuses more on the church and keeping his kids--especially his daughter--locked tight behind a wall of suffocating restrictions disguised as protection.

It's in the forbidden forest that Leah finds her escape. It's there that she becomes a second, other Leah, one who breaks the rules and feels free and can properly grieve while also not being saddled by her family's tragedy. It's also there that Leah has another secret: for years she's been watching a family of Sasquatch. Then one day the trio becomes a quartet, but there's something interesting about their fourth member: he's no Sasquatch. He's a human. From there Leah's secret and life in the woods grows even bigger, and she has a determination, a need, to unravel who the wild boy living with the Sasquatch is. And let me be completely forthright here: I adored every single page of it.

Remember when I said I was worried about the Sasquatch? Because really, when you put something like that into a book the potential for ridiculousness is mighty, might high, not matter how here for it I am. But I promise you that here, in this book, it's so, so far from ridiculous. It's a Tarzan-esque story, but with Sasquatch in Texas instead of gorillas in Africa. And the Sasquatch and the boy aren't exactly the core of the story, but they're very important veins of it and add so much to the narrative. They're a mixture of creature both real and myth, part terror and part wonder, and they play on that concept I love so much: "Who is the monster and who is the man?" The story here is deceptive, and it has so much more going on in it than you think there is. Hell, this whole book is so much more than it appears to be. It just so happens to have the nice effect of a mysterious wild boy and a tender-hearted baby Big Foot added on top of it all like a cherry on a sundae.

This review fails at not being flaily enough, but let me tell you: you can read a book, see some issues with it, and be bothered by them, or you can read a book, see some areas that could use work or expansion, but not really have them effect the book as a whole. The Shadows We Know by Heart falls into the latter, and it's only true "fault" was that it could use some elaborating and fleshing out in parts but also that I, selfishly, want more. I want more Sasquatch and more from the boy and more Leah, and I want more after that ending. And it utterly sucks because I can totally see this book flying right under the radar or being pushed aside for its forest creatures (because let's face it: that's hard to pull off in a serious way, but Jennifer Park does it) and it really, really shouldn't. This book took me by surprise in a way that's wholly pleasant, and it doesn't deserve to be hidden in the shadows. The Shadows We Know by Heart is a book that should be held close to the heart (as it is held near mine), or perhaps on a stump at the edge of a forest with a few apples.

Did I like it? Absolutely.
Did I love it? YES.
Would I reread it? I've already had the urge to reread it multiple times, so YES.
Would I purchase it? YES YES YES.
Who would I recommend it to? Everyone. No, but seriously. Do you like stories that take a concept, turn it on its side, and twist it into something new and fresh and wonderful? Then have I got a book for you. Bonus: SASQUATCH!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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