Title: The Shadow Club
Author: Neal Shusterman
Genre: YA, Contemporary
No matter how hard Jared tries, his rival always beats him. Bad enough that Austin is the best runner on the 9th grade team, bound for the Olympics, but he also has the nasty habit of rubbing it in Jared’s face. Jared’s best friend Cheryl understands the feeling. No matter how good of a singer she is, her younger cousin Rebecca always outshines her. While commiserating, Jared and Cheryl hit upon an idea: a club for people who always come in second place. The Shadow Club was just meant to be a place to vent… and maybe play some harmless pranks on the people who wrong them. But when the class weirdo Tyson overhears them, Jared fears everything they built may be in danger.
Since I’ve enjoyed other works by Neal Shusterman (Unwind, Everlost), I decided to pick up The Shadow Club when I found a copy at the used bookstore. Unlike other Neal Shusterman works I’ve read, The Shadow Club didn’t feature fantasy or science fiction elements, but it did carry the author’s signature blend of flawed but sympathetic characters, tight plots, and dark situations with a sprinkling of hope.
The Shadow Club is a mediation on hatred, power, and cruelty. Where most YA books that deal with these themes would show the victim of hateful acts, here we sympathize with the perpetrators. (This isn’t a spoiler, as the prologue warns that the characters do awful things.) Jared and Cheryl aren’t monsters, they’re regular teenagers and decent people. Their hatred of Austin and Rebecca is understandable--justified, in their minds. And it’s hard not to yearn for revenge as we see Austin go out of his way to humiliate Jared, time and time again.
But from hatred is born the Shadow Club, a hate group, who quickly starts acting on their hatred. Jared, for the first time, has a taste of power--and he enjoys it. Secrecy protects the group, but when the secrecy is threatened, Jared goes through more and more extreme measures to protect his gang. In this way, The Shadow Club acts as a microcosm of society, showing how decent, normal people can commit atrocities. It reminds me of The Lord of the Flies, using adolescents to shine a light on the formation of societies and portray some of the darker aspects of human nature.
At a slim 200 pages, the story moves quickly, which only makes the spiral into cruelty even more intense and dramatic. I felt shaken and disturbed, and the feeling lingered after I finished reading. Fortunately, the story did not end on a depressing note, but with hope for healing and redemption. If people have the choice to give into their darker desires, they can also choose to be their better selves.
I’m sure this review didn’t make The Shadow Club seem like a fun, light read, but it is an entertaining read with a powerful message. If you have a chance, you should check it out.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.