Shift – where imitation is not flattery….just dangerous

ShiftShift by Em Bailey

WOW. It’s easy to see why this won the Gold Inky on Inside a Dog this year. Em Bailey has written a taut, incisive and entertaining suspense novel here. The book has a killer opening paragraph:
“There were two things everyone knew about Miranda Vale before she’d even started at our school. The first was that she had no parents – they were dead. And the second? They were dead because Miranda had killed them.”
This serves to instantly draw us in and stir our curiosity. Who is Miranda? Did she really kill her parents? Is she dangerous? Whilst the rest of the school wonders why someone “like that” would be coming to their school, Olive, our protagonist, and her friend, Ami, can’t wait to meet her.
From the beginning of this story, we know Olive is “different” to other people at her school. We discover her life is one of routines, medication and visiting Dr Richter, hinting that there may be some mental health issues and making us consider she may not be a reliable narrator. But, she has a firm friend in Ami and we realise that theirs is a very close friendship. It is established that there was an “incident” and that Ami has also been through something similar. They seem to understand each other implicitly – it is clear that this relationship is an anchor in Olive’s life and it is fun to read, too.
Olive’s family has its issues too – Dad is absent, and her Mum, a skittish online vitamin salesperson, barely seems to cope at times. Her adoring younger brother, Toby, has recurring nightmares that Olive blames herself for. Olive also states she is the reason her Dad left. Like I said – issues.
Miranda arrives and more or less blends into the background. Until she starts to trail after Katie, a former friend of Olive’s, who is part of the popular crowd. This instantly brings up more questions about Olive, who is very clearly no longer part of that group. Through a series of seemingly unconnected events, Miranda and Katie are suddenly best friends – inseparable. Ami and Olive notice things about Miranda that seem weird – her mirror eyes, her strange skin. There is a mystery to be solved here. Events begin to spiral out of control as Katie becomes thin and wan, and Miranda thrives in direct counterpoint. Olive and Ami suspect that Miranda is a shapeshifter, sucking the life out of Katie, but who can they tell? Who would believe such a thing?
I am determined not to put any spoilers in here, but this story just gets more intense, the further you go. Once I was three-quarters of the way in, I HAD to finish it.
This is the beauty of Bailey’s writing – she begins to peel back what we see, layer by layer, until we understand we are looking at the truth. The truth is sometimes not want we want to hear, nor what we expect, but the truth, in the end, is what will save you and this is proven in the satisfying conclusion to this excellent first YA novel. I look forward to the next offering from Em Bailey, but I am a little scared about where it will take us!
For ages 12 and up.