Young adult fiction, from the bookshelves in Barnes & Noble to the silver screen, seems to have been dominated by female protagonists: Katniss Everdeen, Tris Prior, Bella Swan. Take a glance at the top five New York Times bestselling hardback books, and you will find books about lady Shadowhunters and sirens falling in love. Sure, there are exceptions like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the Percy Jackson series, as well as the John Green standouts, but fantasy and science fiction featuring a strong female lead sometimes seems like it dominates the genre.
That doesn’t mean that Casting Shadows Everywhere, with its male protagonist, isn’t in good company. The novel by L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain focuses on an awkward teen boy named Jake as he attempts to “man-up” through lessons from his shifty and often violent cousin Nick. Rather than presenting fantastical scenes of magic, myth, and adventure, Shadows aligns itself with the likes of John Green’s Looking for Alaska and Stephen Chobsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In these books, everyday teen angst and neuroses take the place of dystopian misery and heroes battle bullies rather than totalitarian dictators or supernatural monsters. The characters, like their real-world counterparts, are often stuck in their own banal worlds of everyday American life. Like Perks, the novel uses an epistolary format, attempting to capture the voice of a 15-year-old boy’s journal as it really might be: vulgar, self-deprecating, sarcastic, anecdotal, and without a central structure or clear narrative progression. Yet, as he learns more and more from Nick, nice–boy Jake becomes darker, eventually learning that the real-world can be just as brutal as those realities often featured in dystopian fiction. Documenting his descent into violence and criminality, the novel explores how we construct ideas of morality, masculinity, and make meaning of our lives in a chaotic, violent, and mundane universe.
Review by Kerry Boyles, reader and reviewer for The Passed Note team