Here is a review from Central Library’s Library Live volunteer Hasan Gafoor:
Shift, by Jennifer Bradbury, is the story of Chris and Winston (aka Win), two best friends and high school graduates who embark on a cross country bike trek from their dull hometown in West Virginia all the way to the West Coast. While in the home stretch, Win abandons Chris while he is occupied, replacing one of the many flat tires they encounter on their journey. Chris then finishes the trip and take a bus back home, assuming Win did the same or biked to his uncle’s house in Seattle. He gets home to find not Win, but more trouble than he could ever imagine…
The genre for this book is Mystery. I think Shift fit this genre relatively well because it contains some key aspects needed for a mystery. Win going missing was the inciting force, the event that triggers an investigation and/or the detective. After discovering a clue, Chris becomes the detective. Lastly, the author used suspense to draw the reader in at some points of the book, a tactic commonly used in mysteries.
I don’t see such realistic mysteries such as this one too often, so it was refreshing to read. Many mysteries are those that you would never even consider happening in real life. The story that is could totally happen to anyone, especially because of the fact that it took place in modern-day America, and the characters: Chris is your average small-town teenager, as plain and honest as they come, and Win could be the “funny” one is anyone’s friend group. He’s the type to get into trouble in class by cracking jokes and not paying attention, sometimes making it his goal to get on everyone’s nerves. It was amusing to see the story narrated by someone who was constantly in the company of someone so odd. Both of the boys were genuine and are developed well throughout the novel.
The character development in this book was excellent. At the end of the book it was very clear as to why the climax occurred and how the characters in the story might’ve affected it. One of the main themes in the novel was “finding yourself” and needless to say, the main characters did just that by the end of the story. Their journey together tested their friendship and cause them to understand themselves and each other better.
I find it interesting that that the author chose this theme, because in mysteries, the characters are trying to physically find each other, or “the culprit.” The intersection between finding oneself and a friend is difficult to write. Chris went through an inner and outer conflict when he asked himself questions like: do I need Win in my life? Does Win even want me to find him? Is Win even alive? There was a push from Win’s parents to find him as well, which forced Chris to make the quick decision of looking for Win even though he had this conflict.
Another thing I liked about the book was the interactions between the characters. You can tell the author made an effort to make the conversations feel natural, and for the most part, they did. Sometimes it almost feels like you can jump into the conversations yourself.
I really enjoyed how the author told the story, as well as the pace of it. The chapters alternated between Chris’s current day and the bike trek which compelled the reader to continue reading in order find out what happens next. I think this is what made the book so immersive and what I liked most about it.
One of the few things I disliked about this book was that a few of the characters were a bit generic. Win’s parents were typical busy parents with too much money and not enough time. Chris’s mom was the common mom who worries enough to the point where it becomes an annoyance. Secondly I didn’t really care for the theme of the story which was finding yourself. Sometimes I found it boring compared to other mystery novels which keep you on the edge of your seat with thrilling murders and plot twists. Finally, although it was an engaging book, it didn’t make me feel anything. It didn’t make laugh, cry or anything in between really. I believe good books should make you feel something and that’s one thing that this book was lacking.
This book reminded me of one another book I read recently, The Case of the Missing Servant, a Vish Puri Mystery. I remembered the book while reading Shift because both stories lines and endings were extremely realistic and could very well happen in real life. The books also had other similarities. Both books had someone go missing, and both main characters had moms that worried obsessively about their respective sons.
If I were to change one thing about this book, I would have Chris endure more physical struggle in the process of looking for Win. There was plenty of emotional struggle up to that point, but to me it felt too straightforward and obvious. I think more physical trials would have provided a much more hard-fought and satisfying conclusion, more so than the one given in this book.
I would recommend this book to young adults. It was coherent that the vocabulary used in this book was intended for that age group. It seemed like it was not complex enough for an adult read, but not as simplistic as a children’s book. Young adults would easily be able to connect to the characters in this story as they are both life-like high school graduates.
To conclude, Shift was a fine mystery that completely absorbed its readers with an intriguing plot, exceptional characters and impressive storytelling. Like all books it had its flaws, but its positives heavily outweighed them. Out of ten I would rate it an 8/10.
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