The Shadow Girl by John Larkin
It’s a rare teenage novel that affects me as profoundly as The Shadow Girl has done. This book is a powerful and accomplished piece of writing, based on a true story. It begins with an entry into the terrifying world of a homeless girl who has found safety in an abandoned house, and is celebrating her birthday with a candlelit bath, but hears the police enter through the back door. She is an anonymous girl, living in an unnamed city, who is telling her story to an unnamed author. She is strong and spirited, modelling herself on the Roald Dahl character, Matilda, who has dreadful parents but determines to surpass their poor example. The shadow girl is on the run from her uncle and aunt, who have been looking after her ever since her parents mysteriously disappeared. But her uncle is a gangster and a very dangerous man and if she is captured and returned to him, then her life is surely in danger. All this 15-year-old wants is to get an education so that she can become a doctor and discover a cure for an eye-eating African worm – but when you’re homeless, just getting to school, let alone doing your homework, can be a tough gig.
The shadow girl is a wonderful protagonist – she’s smart, tough and never feels sorry for herself, despite the harrowing circumstances of her life. She faces challenges with verve and vigour and I felt like I was holding my breath the entire way, praying that she survive the next life-threatening moment. John Larkin has done a stunning job of bringing the shadow girl’s story to us, with all the dignity and richness that it deserves. The book touches on serious issues, including paedophila, so is suitable for readers aged 15 and up.
Angela Crocombe is from Readings St Kilda