Published: November 5th, 2016, self-published | Series: N/A | Length: 144 pages | Genre: YA, fantasy | Source: I received a review copy via Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. | Possible Triggers: child abuse, death, car accident, hospitalization
Summary from Goodreads:
Everyone is dying to live in the Shadows of the Forest.
They gave me three rules to follow in exchange for my brother’s life:
1. Do not enter the West Wing;
2. Do not go outside after darkness falls; and
3. There is only one exit; The Gates.
This is what happened when I broke them…
Sigh. I don’t really know where to begin with this book. At first, I was really excited by it because the synopsis is so intriguing and made me think it would have a bit of a dystopian element to it (it definitely does not). Then I noticed it has a very low rating on Goodreads and got discouraged. I wanted to like this book (I really wanted to be a positive review to balance out the negatives), but unfortunately, this was more disappointing than not.
First of all, I don’t think the synopsis properly explains what’s going to be in the book. It certainly hooks you in and makes you interested, but I feel like it sets you up for an entirely different story than what you’ll get. Now I may be being nitpicky, but misleading/inaccurate synopses are one of my biggest pet peeves. Based on the synopsis, I thought it would have some dystopian elements to it on top of the fantasy aspects, but it doesn’t. It also makes it seem as though the main character, Lilly, has already saved her brother and this is some sort of punishment or payment, but it’s not. Throughout the entire first half of the book, she’s actively trying to save her brother. Again, this may seem like I’m nitpicking (and I very well may be), but it still bothered me.
The writing itself was not very good either. There were a lot of run-on sentences as well as a lot of sentence fragments and the writing overall was filled with phrases that were difficult to understand. I can’t tell if this is due to a lack of editing or lack of skill or something else entirely, but I felt like if a little more time had been spent going through the book, the writing could’ve been vastly improved. As it was, it was just hard to read. There were a couple of times where I read the same sentence four or five times and still didn’t know what was being said. Kind of related to this was the fact that certain things/plot points went on for way too long and others were barely touched upon. Despite being only 144 pages long, this book felt so long at times because of this.
This story essentially centers around the very close relationship between Lilly and her twin brother, Cole. This was exciting for me at first because I love when books feature prominent, meaningful relationships between siblings. It ended up kind of being a weakness though because the sibling relationship felt more like a romantic relationship at times and, to put it bluntly, it creeped me out. Even putting that aside, the relationship was very co-dependent which I really don’t like seeing in books because it’s not a healthy relationship. I like to see characters who are close with other people, yes, but who are also capable of being their own person and taking care of themselves. For the vast majority of the book, Lilly was not like that at all.
This brings me to another point: Lilly’s character. I had a very hard time liking or connecting with her because she was just so depressing. Those of you who have followed me for some time now will know that I have no problems with reading books that deal with mental health or tough topics (in fact, these are some of my favorite types of books to read), but this felt too over the top to be believable. Lilly constantly talks about how terrible her life has been (understandable, given that she was abused by her father) and how she always causes people pain and she was “supposed to” die young, etc. This all would have been fine if it had been written in a better way. But as it is in this novel, it’s like almost every other sentence was Lilly despairing about either her personality or her life and it was, quite frankly, obnoxious. To top it all off, towards the end, Lilly suddenly does a complete 180 and, without any build-up, finally sees that she has a place in the world and can be a good person. Again, this would’ve been fine if it had been written well, but, like I mentioned, there was no build-up and thus her development was not at all believable.
I had a similar problem with the romance in this story. Throughout the first half, I didn’t think there was any romance in this book at all. And then within the span of a couple of paragraphs, Lilly is suddenly very attracted to another character and they’re in love (I think). Similar to Lilly’s character development, this was too sudden to be believable.
The story also had elements of Japanese culture in it. Clearly, as a white person, I’m no expert in the subject so I can’t really say whether or not it was incorporated respectfully and/or accurately. I didn’t really feel like it was a huge part of the story (as far as I know, only one character is influenced by Japanese culture), but thought it was worth mentioning.
The reason why I gave this a star and a half rather than just one star is because the overall story was good. Although it often gets overpowered or buried by poor writing or unbelievable developments, it was very enjoyable when it had the chance to shine. It’s essentially a story of a young teenage girl trying to find herself and risk it all to save her brother, which I think was quite interesting to read about (even if I did have problems with the sibling relationship at times). I enjoyed the world in which this takes place as well. There are a lot of fantastical creatures incorporated into the book which I really enjoyed. I just wish it had been easier to focus on the story and tune out the problems.
As much as I wanted to like Shadows of the Forest, it, unfortunately, ended up being pretty disappointing. Between strange relationships, developments that were far too sudden, and confusing writing, it was difficult for me to enjoy this book. The strongest elements were the overall plot and the world, but I fear they weren’t enough to get me to really enjoy this one.