Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stolen Shadows

Stolen Shadows by Mary King

This is the first of a series of books about a young couple, both doctors, who buy a mansion and set it up as a rehab house for homeless or foster-care teens who are recovering from major disabling accidents. There's a rotating cast of characters, mostly boys, several with SCI, although there are other disabilities as well. Many of them are also victims of sexual abuse.

This book was very highly reviewed on Amazon, but I found the devo factor nonexistent. Also it's just not a good book. It is self-published, put out by a vanity press, and the lack of editing really shows, not only in little ways, like typos and misuse of language, but in big ways as well. The story takes forever to get going (it's more than halfway through before they even build the house), and there are dozens of characters whose stories are told like little vignettes, but many of them don't go anywhere. There's just no structure to any of it, and the first volume ends very abruptly.

In spite of many realistic touches, the story is told like a mixture of a romance novel, true crime, and medical drama. The two main characters are impossibly beautiful, talented and wealthy. For instance, the doctor is not only gorgeous and at the very top of her field, but she's also a math whiz AND a musical genius who performs with a symphony orchestra. Also she and her partner are only in their late 20s. The descriptions of both of them are straight out of the cheeziest romance novel, which detracts mightily from the realism.

The descriptions of spinal cord injury are extremely detailed and realistic, which I appreciate; there are not enough novels that have this level of realism. However, there's something kind of creepy about the way it's discussed. Bowel and bladder issues are a part of SCI, but the author really dwells on those details excessively. By about the 10th description of enemas, catheters, and messy accidents, it crosses the line from realistic detail to voyeuristic obsession. There's a scene near the beginning where the doctor teaches a very reluctant teenage girl how to catheterize herself, and she comforts her by saying that in a few years she won't even think twice about it, she'll have a wonderful life and will have gotten past the shame and pain to focus on more positive aspects of her life, which is a very good point. However, the novel itself never does that. As soon as a character starts to adjust, he or she disappears, and we are left with an endless parade of trauma. I suppose that reflects more on the doctor's point of view, but the other creepy thing about the book is that every single character, even the doctors and their acquaintances, at some point suffers some horrible tragedy, from severe injuries to horrific childhood sexual abuse, and several characters suffer both. Any one of these characters might have made a compelling novel, but with so many of them crammed into one book, it starts to read like an anthology of Reader's Digest "Drama in Real Life" stories. Except even with those, we aren't expected to believe that all the people live together.

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