Content Warnings: Death, grief, heroin addiction, overdose, suicide, incest, rape
Sometimes you just really want to love a book and it keeps letting you down again and again and again. That was my experience of reading Sarah Porter’s new YA paranormal fantasy When I Cast Your Shadow. The book is about twins, Ruby and Everett, who are still grieving the death of their older brother Dashiell from a heroin overdose. Ruby unknowingly lets Dashiell posses her body after a bizarre nightmare, setting off a series of events that imperil Ruby and Everett while revealing dark secrets about their family.
Part of my problem with this book might come from the fact that I was reading outside of my genre. While I enjoy paranormal stories, I have never really read demon possession stories. The parts that take place in the Land of the Dead were confusing and difficult to picture. I found myself skimming over them for the most part, and ultimately skimmed through most of the book because I couldn’t connect to any of the imagery, characters or plot.
Frankly, the writing style of this book felt all wrong for YA. The dialogue felt forced and unrealistic. When the characters spoke, especially Dashiell, it felt like it was a thirty-year old from some artsy noir movie speaking and not a nineteen-year-old New Yorker. The pacing was off (oh my, how this book dragged). And while I’m not opposed to having YA handle topics like heroin addiction (I absolutely think it should, but responsibly and not as a plot device), this book literally features a teen heroin addict who commits suicide so he’s no longer a negative influence on his family.
There was a scene that broke the camel’s back that made me unable to devote my full attention to finishing it. I skimmed over the rest to see if I could get into it, but no dice. After this scene, the entire book fell flat for me. Spoiler alert for this: After Everett lets Dashiell possess him to save Ruby, Dashiell “rewards” Everett by using his brother’s body to have sex with Dashiell’s ex-girlfriend in the bed he died in. There were so, so, so many layers of wrong here. First of all, since Dashiell was in control of Everett’s body, but Paige thought she was consenting to sex with Everett and not her dead ex-boyfriend, it’s technically rape. Everett even recognizes that, but doesn’t feel too bad about it apparently because the chapter ends a paragraph later and he doesn’t ever really bring it up again.
Overall, this book is a mess. I wanted to like it. I really did, but I just couldn’t. The world-building didn’t feel coherent, the characters were just so-so, the plot was a mess and the bottom line is: I couldn’t even get through the damn book.
There were a few things I liked about it though. I liked the nicknames the siblings had for each other (Ruby-Ru, Ruby Slippers, Never-Ever, Dash-Dot-Dot). I liked that it was set in Brooklyn and featured a lot of my favorite places there. I loved that it started out as a story about a girl missing her brother, but then it took a turn for the worse and I couldn’t get into it. Maybe I just wasn’t the right reader for this book. Whatever the reason, this book was a miss for me and I don’t think I’ll be actively recommending it any time soon.