This young-adult novel really packs an emotional punch. The Shadow Girl is the dramatic story of a girl trying to escape her horrendous family situation: she lives through years of homelessness, trying to keep herself safe and find schools to attend, all the while outrunning an uncle who wants to kill her. But despite the drama, this is both a realistic and insightful book, and the lessons she learns and the people who help her along the way really make the reader think. The structure is also compelling: the story is told through the eyes of the protagonist, but is also revealed in her meetings with an author who is taking down her story for publication. John Larkin is a talented writer who knows exactly how to manipulate his audience and leave them on the edge of their seat. This young adult novel draws on elements of thrillers and mysteries, but in essence, it is something more: an evocation of life lived at rock bottom and the resilience it takes to clamber back into the light. It can be quite violent and graphic at times, so I would recommend this book to mature readers aged 15 and up.
The four young central characters in Chasers seem quite resourceful in dealing with a difficult situation. Do you think they reflect the skills of a current younger generation?
I think teenagers are as resourceful as any age group, particularly so when we are seeing this story’s events through the eyes of 16-year-old narrator, Jesse. Characters are more stylised than people we know and stories in novels are the more dramatic moments, so 16-year-olds in fiction, such as Holden Caulfield and Picene ‘Pi’ Patel, seem more resourceful than we’d expect. I put Jesse into a post-apocalyptic world and tried to be true to him while letting the chips fall where they might—extraordinary circumstances brought out some unique methods of survival for him.
This is very much a New York story. Do you think this will be a problem for readers unfamilar with the Big Apple?
I chose New York because it’s the world’s greatest city and its most inglorious, its most frenetic and its most lonely, and it has played a key role in spawning two global events that have shaped the opening of this century. Australian readers will see New York as Jesse sees it—through Australian eyes. The setting is a backdrop to the series but is a minor component compared to the story of Jesse that unfolds on the page. I tried to make every word of his so true thatit hurt, so that by the final chapter when our truth is skewed it hurts all the more but at the same time it’s an uplifting revelation because the lies preceding it were beautiful: they’d saved a life.
The parallels with 9/11 are drawn by the book’s narrator. Were you trying to make a metaphorical link between the nature of terror and horror?
I’d written three novels for an adult audience that dealt with terrorism and 9/11. The third one, Blood Oil, was very dark: my response to where we’d gone as a society. Chasers was a departure as it was an entire world that I created—a world forever changed from the end of the prologue. Jesse is aware of 9/11 (he was headed on a field trip to the memorial when the disaster struck) so it seemed logical he’d think of it in the context of what he’s seeing all around him. Linking real events in his mind was something he employed to cope with the situation at hand—this kind of thing has happened before and people have overcome it, so he can do that here too. It deals with horrors as Jesse sees them: illness, mortality, heartbreak and loss. Continue reading