Allison Baggio | Girl in Shades (ECW Press)

book shadesWhile Girl in Shades is decently written and at times original, it is often unsatisfying and ultimately frustrating.


The press release calls Allison Baggio’s debut novel “wildly impressive.” Such undeserved effusiveness.

While Girl in Shades is decently written and at times original, it is often unsatisfying and ultimately frustrating. Main character Maya Devine, 11 years old when we meet her, is dealing with her mother Marigold’s cancer; Mom, for her part, has taken refuge in a tent in the backyard, where, refusing treatment, she slowly wastes away. Maya is an intuitive girl, often hearing people’s thoughts or seeing the auras around their bodies. She is, as befitting the story, an outsider; she has few friends and is often teased at school. An unlikely friendship—and, later, relationship—springs up between her and Elijah, a neighbor boy whose mother takes particular interest in Maya’s mother.

Through a process of exploration, spurred by Maya’s discovery of her mother’s diaries, the girl begins to uncover a shocking family history. At the same time, her father has decamped to his new girlfriend’s house, leaving the young girl to live alone and fend for herself. Maya begins to skip school—so much so that the reader is left wondering why (a) there are no real repercussions and (b) how on earth she didn’t have to repeat a grade or two. Disbelief begins to creep into the novel, and only continues the further we read.

Her relationship with her father in shreds, Maya moves toNew York Cityto live with his younger sister, her Aunt Leah, and her blind roommate, Buffy. While not exactly motherly, Buffy becomes a powerful, positive influence in the teenager’s life; unconditional love from her aunt helps, too. But Maya is still confused and damaged. She refuses to speak to her father and begins to act out.

Conveniently, Elijah’s family had moved toNew York, setting the stage for her first romantic—and sexual—relationship. In an odd twist, she decides to move into his family’s house. I don’t know about you, but no parents I know would let their high school-aged son move his girlfriend into the house. Maya becomes more and more unlikable as the novel progresses

Things get even weirder from there. Post-high school, Maya’s searches take her toIndia, presumably to learn more about her mother’s secret past. She ultimately joins a commune, where she stays—why, exactly? Presumably, when she returns to the States a hippie with dreadlocks, she has conquered her demons. Frankly, I just don’t believe it. And at this point, I don’t like her at all.

I have saved the most annoying aspect of Girl in Shades for last. Throughout her life, Maya draws upon the lyrics of Corey Hart—Corey Hart—for inspiration and guidance. (The book’s title is a reference to “Sunglasses at Night”—get it? Yes, I groaned, too.) Really, tell me how a high school senior can be so moved by the pabulum of “Never Surrender”: Just a little uncertainty can bring you down/ And nobody wants to know you now/ And nobody wants to show you how.” Hell, even I drew upon Smiths lyrics at that age.

I almost quit reading Girl in Shades numerous times, but ultimately stuck it out, hoping it would redeem itself. All it did was dig itself a bigger hole. There are better ways to spend your reading time and spending dollars. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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