Take a breath…

A Shadow's BreathA Shadow’s Breath by Nicole Hayes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review copy provided by author in exchange for a fair review

Tessa’s life has been pretty crappy for a long time. Her beloved Dad had an undiagnosed mental illness, where he changed almost overnight into a depressed and erratic shadow of his former creative self. He committed suicide a few years ago. Her mum, a sad and lost alcoholic, has a new partner, “the arsehole”, who likes to bash her and abuse Tessa too. She used to draw but the arsehole tore up a year’s work in a rage one day and she has not drawn seriously since.
Finally, after a terrifying close call, her mum finally kicked out the arsehole, changed the locks and is drying out. It’s still all new, but Tessa’s life is turning around. She has a caring boyfriend, a loyal best friend and now her Mum is being motherly after a long emotional absence.
And then the accident happens. Nick, Tessa’s boyfriend, misjudges a corner as they are driving in his car and now they are trapped in the wreckage at the bottom of a gully outside town. Now it’s a true battle of survival.
Nicole Hayes writes great contemporary fiction. The voices of these characters, particularly of Tessa, her mother Ellen, and her friend Yuki ring out loud and true. The story is told by switching back and forth between “now” (the aftermath of the crash) and “then” what preceded the crash. I think this device is used well – to illustrate how this battle for life after a terrible car crash and Tessa’s car crash of a life are equally devastating. It is clear Tessa is emotionally damaged courtesy of her past home life, but we are able to dig deeper into that thanks to the benefit of the “then” mechanism, which then helps us to understand the “now”.
As far as tone goes, I think this is closer to Hayes’ first novel The Whole of My World than her last novel, One True Thing. There is great emotional depth and exploration going on here. I feel like this is a very personal novel for Hayes. Her care in crafting the fragile but resilient Tessa, and the struggling but steadfast Ellen, in particular, is wonderful. I really liked Ellen – flaws and all, because she never gives up trying to get better, and she truly loves her daughter. Tessa is fluttering on the precipice of adulthood, but still has growing to do, and issues to confront as long suppressed memories about her father start to surface.
No spoilers here – I won’t tell you if they survive, or what the memories are – they are yours to discover as a reader. What I will say is that I feel privileged to have read this novel so early, because now I can try my damnedest to promote it to as many young adult readers as possible.
Congratulations Nicole Hayes – it’s another beautiful, true, heartfelt and heartbreaking story to add to the amazing OzYA lexicon.
For readers 14 and up.

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