“We all got the eyes…”
Jeffery Ford’s The Shadow Year is a fantastical, coming-of-age story set in a small, lower-middle class suburb of 1960s Long Island. We see a family on the edge of breaking up–a father working three jobs and a mother with a fondness for wine. Our protagonist is a nameless sixth-grader ready to enter junior high. His older brother, Jim, acts as his mentor and protector, and their little sister, Mary, plays host to imaginary friends.
Life is monotonous until “the Shadow Year,” when a series of odd events begin to stir the idyllic town: Reports of a Peeping Tom are popping up throughout the neighborhood and the kids witness the arrival of a mysterious, pipe-smoking stranger known only to them as Mr. White. A couple of folks die mysteriously, and all the while, there is a shabby replica of the town in the protagonist’s family basement which seems to be shadowing real events.
The atmosphere of The Shadow Year is reminiscent of Stephen King’s It. We see children growing up rapidly, coming together to fight against forces of which the real adults are either ignorant or afraid to acknowledge.
Honestly, I felt the pace lumbered along and the ending was slightly contrived. If you don’t find yourself transported into the world of the characters about one-third of the way in, you probably won’t like this book. Luckily, I was pulled in enough to enjoy the story overall. I’d give it 4/5 stars for atmosphere and character, but 3/5 stars for plot.