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SHADOW PEOPLE by Joyce McDonald

SHADOW PEOPLE

By Joyce McDonald

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-385-32662-9
Publisher: Delacorte

McDonald’s latest starts with a bang when four teenage criminals express their rage by trashing a local souvenir shop, then setting it on fire. Their crime is compounded when the niece of the proprietor rushes toward the fire, getting nearer and nearer to a propane tank that is about to blow. Leaving the reader in suspense, the novel then backtracks, detailing the sad histories of these four teenage delinquents, each of whom comes from a dysfunctional family. There’s Hollis, a coldhearted mastermind; Alec, a creepy loser with a criminal past; Gabriel, whose family fell apart after his brother’s murder; and Lydia, the daughter of a paranoid survivalist. Fast-paced and instantly absorbing, the book cuts between the various characters, depicting their complex psychological connections to each other and explaining how chance, circumstance, dumb luck, and wrongheaded decision-making led them to become lawbreakers. The fifth perspective comes from the more-together Gem, the niece of the storeowner and the book’s catalyst. Although McDonald (Swallowing Stones, 1997, etc.) has great sympathy and understanding for her angry, troubled characters, the book, which ends with a surprising punch line, is at heart a cautionary tale. It lays out a scenario in which good kids (two of the four offenders are basically decent) can, by taking incremental, even justifiable steps, stray so far from the boundaries of civilized, lawful behavior that there is no pulling back, no avoiding catastrophe, and no hope for a life without criminal penalties. Something to think about. (Fiction. YA)