Review: The Shadows by Alex North

The haunting new thriller from Alex North, author of the New York Times best seller The Whisper Man

You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile – always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet – and inspired more than one copycat.

Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree – and his victim – were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and senile, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.

It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Reading the news, Paul learns another copycat has struck. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day 25 years ago.

It wasn’t just the murder.

It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again….

The Shadows by Alex North. Narrated by Hannah Arterton and John Hefferman. Audiobook run time is 9 hours and 5 mins. Published by Macmillan Audio, July 2020.

Possible triggers: Hinted at child abuse, child death, bullying, suicide.

*I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

WOAH. This book has all the bad feels you could want! Lots of sad and uncomfortable topics are subtly dealt with in The Shadows, so buckle up buttercup! It’s gonna be an awkwardly good ride.

I have never read anything by Alex North before, but you had to be living under a rock in 2019 if you hadn’t heard the name before. This is the author who did the hot buzz book of 2019 with The Whisper Man! Like, that book was freaking everywhere! You could not go anywhere online or in a physical book store without seeing that book up front. Just about every book magazine, site, forum and blog talked about how amazing The Whisper Man was. I myself found myself waffling over it every time it was in front of me…. it sounded pretty good, but UGH little kid characters. That is usually a hard no for me, but I did think about it real hard. Ultimately I always ended up putting the book down.

Now, The Shadows has kids in it as well, but I can tolerate teen characters as long as they aren’t stupid angsty and thinking of getting it on with someone most of the novel. I freaking hate that. Not all teens are angsty, sexed up brats, ok? Stop with all those sort of sterotyped teens!

The Shadows did a great job with their teens. This group of kids felt extremely believable. They had a deep well of all the complicated emotions you deal with in your teen years, but it was very subtle. No angst tantrums or outburst. Just regular arguments. Paul does have romantic feelings for Jenny, and he did think of her a lot, but the way it was handle felt very low key. It wasn’t crammed down our throat even though it was a very pivotal part of the plot. I really liked this. I really, really wished more authors handled their teens in this sort of way.

Like I said earlier, there are a lot of difficult topics with this book….. or maybe it’s just me who found them uncomfortable? They did hit a little close to home with a lot of the emotions. We deal with mental health, suicide, PTSD, loss, bullying, grief, child abuse, child death, death of parents, hinted at pedophilia, and wasted time just to name a few. Probably more that I didn’t even think of off the top of my head. A lot of these topics make me squirm a little. I, like probably most people, don’t exactly like to be confronted by hard topics like death of a loved one or the mental health issues we might have from past traumas and guilt. But again, the way North handled these topics was very subtle and low key. There was no shoved in your face child abuse by a parent or bullying. We don’t really see this at all first hand, either. It all comes second hand from Paul, who is kinda maybe an unreliable narrator (?) and police reports. Even Paul dealing with his mom was not overly beating a dead horse. Very subtle…. yet…. somehow you understand the powerful emotions boiling underneath the words. It takes a very talented author who can write like that.

I really connected with these characters and their baggage. Ok, maybe I haven’t had this kind of crazy that is talked about in the plot, but I’ve felt guilt and grief over a choice I made. More than once! Who hasn’t? Even Superman feels that! That weight on your shoulders of “I should have done better.” or ” I should have done that instead of this” and it doesn’t even matter if the reality is you did the best you could in that situation. The voice in your head will never let you forget that you are the one that messed up.

I really felt for all of these kids. And yes, Charlie is freaking bananas…. but I couldn’t help feeling bad for him. When I was a kid, I was dealing with a lot of issues in school that left me feeling extremely overwhelmed and filled with anxiety and depression. Now I didn’t stab any classmates or anything, but I 100% get that feeling of being unable to handle everything that is closing in around you and you are desperate to find an exit sign. Not knowing how to deal with everything, you just want to run far, far away from this dark hole you are falling into. The “bad guys” of this story…. Agh! I don’t know, man…. Yeah, they killed people, but at the same time…. the grief and pressure they were feeling…. D: I can’t help feel sorry for them and what they went through as well as the victims.

Everyone has baggage and managing the best you can with it is the under current theme of this book. Doing your best to handle difficult thing is all we can do. It’s hard to let go of guilt and grief over a choice you made years ago. It can eat you up and ruin the rest of your life. This is something the main character, Paul tries to wrap his head around through the whole book and it is something that each character in the book deals with in their own separate ways. You see Paul struggle with coming to terms with things throughout the whole book and the author did a great job showing the process of his character’s growth.

I really liked the way this author writes. It is a fictional novel. We all know that, clearly… but the way the author writes. It felt like very believable. If that makes sense? I don’t really know how to explain it becasue it is a crazy situation, yes, but at the same time it really did feel like this sort of thing could easily happen to people. Very smooth, subtle flow. Feels like the author really understands how people feel and act.

There were some really WTF twists about some of the characters that were pretty cool. One of them had me mentally running through past dialogue to see how the twist turned about. I was very surprised about the killer at the end. I seriously did not see that coming at all and I’m not exactly sure how I felt about it. I totally understand the reason and why they did what they did, but… I don’t know. It was just so out of left field.

One slight problem, maybe, is that there were a lot of characters in this story to keep up with. You had a group from the past story line and you had a group from the present story line. Mostly, this was ok because they were mentioned enough times that I got a feel for who was who. Sometimes, though, there were minor characters mentioned for one “scene” in the very beginning and then never mentioned again until one of the characters at the end of the book would bring up their name again and I was like, “Wait……..Who is this again? ” I’m pretty bad with remembering names though, and the author did clue us in to who it was with context clues, so it wasn’t too terrible. In the end you could always figure out who was who.

There were two different narrators for this book, one for the female lead and one for the male lead. Both narrators felt like they really fit that character’s voice. I especially liked the way Paul sounded. Very defeated by life and the narrator did a great job capturing that feeling. Also, it felt really nice having both the main characters having different narrators because they really are coming at the same problem from completely different directions. It helped define the two different attempts to figure out the same problem.

The Shadows is a very entertaining book. I wouldn’t call it a horror book, but it does technically have “real life horror” in it. I would say this is more of a thriller / suspense novel and anyone who is a big fan of thrillers will probably really enjoy this book. This book was uncomfortable in all the right ways. The author is very talented writer.


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