Gordon (The Gorillas of Gill Park, 2003, etc.) sets the stage for an eerie fantasy that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.
Cully Pennyacre, 12, reluctantly becomes the apprentice of antiques dealer Batty, who seems to be up to something with his shadow-collecting hobby. In the back of his store, Batty runs an apparatus that neatly removes people’s shadows. He has plenty of willing participants who aren’t warned that, once shadowless, they will be sadly incomplete. Appalled, Cully stays on because he needs the money to help keep his family apple farm running, a job made all the more difficult since his father disappeared a year ago, leaving his quirky aunts to run the business. Batty’s granddaughter, Isabel, a notably unpopular classmate of Cully’s, seems to know more about the shadow business and her malevolent aunt and uncle’s determination to acquire the Pennyacre farm than she’s telling, at least at first. As Cully’s friendship with Isabel strengthens, she develops some emotional energy to defy her nasty relatives. Eccentric characters, both good and evil, add life to the tale, but the bad ones become increasingly caricature-like, diminishing their menacing effect. Unfortunately, as the tale becomes less grounded in reality, it also begins to lose its atmospheric threat.
Even if not fully disquieting, the fast pace and unusual characters will keep most readers turning the pages. (Fantasy. 10-14)