Find love, find death, find life ... In the Shadows.

Forgive me, Melvil Dewey, for I have sinned: I have not seen any of Jim Di Bartolo's magnificent art until I picked up In the Shadows, a book which he co-authored with Kiersten White.  It's heartbreakingly beautiful and creepy all in one fell swoop.  I'm no art critic, but when a picture makes you feel hurt or lonely or terrified ... that's art.  It's not just paint on paper, but a living creature that crawls into your soul and makes a little burrow there.  My own soul is a little honeycomb.  Nooks and crannies safeguard works of art--written, visual, and auditory--that have touched me, but I always have room for more.

Lately, I have been despairing over the state of some young adult literature.  I tire of the special snowflake heroines, the brooding heroes, the patently evil governments, and the body objectification. However, when I was ordering books for the library, I found one that had rather a plain title: In the Shadows, but it was a hybrid wordless graphic novel/written story.  Intrigued, I later checked it out when it arrived on our shelves, heavy with rich, shiny paper.

Ms. White and Mr. Di Bartolo, you have restored my faith in the brilliance, originality, and daring of young adult literature.

In the Shadows has a dual narrative: one that is completely wordless, done in brilliant illustrations by Di Bartolo, that spans a length of time.  It is mysterious at the beginning, but not so obtuse that you give up--no.  You want to know more.  Who are these people?  Who is this young man?  It perfectly balances White's short chapters, which are like little tidbits of Gothic mystery that force you to keep turning the pages.

Before this, I'd not read anything by Kiersten White, but I am definitely more likely to do so now.  There are five main characters: Charles, a young man dying of (I think) tuberculosis), his devoted brother Thom, a mysterious young man named Arthur, and sisters Cora (the worried and sensible one) and Minnie (the brave, spunky, kiss-the-boys-and-make-them cry one).  One day, Arthur arrives at Minnie and Cora's house with nowhere else to go.  He carries with him a suitcase that is his fate, his destiny, and possibly his undoing.  Minnie and Cora's mother takes him in, and the girls accept Arthur as a brother, although Minnie feels something more.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Charles and Thom's rich, bullish, swagger-filled father is brought to his knees by a mysterious woman.  He sends Thom and Charles off to America so that Charles may benefit from the sea air--but in reality, he wants them hidden away.  The five young people form a friendship that is cemented by threats from a mysterious group called the Ladon Vitae.

The teens' exploits felt authentic, and their relationships were complicated but never angst-ridden.  What I liked most about the written narrative is that it doesn't give much away.  The reader has to fill in the gaps using the illustrations and her own imagination.

This book also contained romances that didn't make me want to vomit.  They were sweet and true.  There was none of that "I fell into his melted chocolate eyes" humbug.  And when you're finished with the story, go back over Di Bartolo's narrative again--it will take on a whole new meaning.

Most highly recommended.


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