So many Young Adult Paranormal novels start off with a new girl coming to town, having a meet-cute with the protagonist, and soon, said hapless male protagonist is up to his armpits in supernatural shenanigans he never saw coming.
Thus, I was a bit leery when M.K. Yarbrough’s “Shadow Keeper” started with a new girl coming to town and having a meet-cute with the protagonist her first day of school.
However, I was pleasantly surprised that she was not a witch, a demon, a siren, a harpy, a banshee, or anything else supernatural: her name is Lisa Stratton, and she’s a cute, shy girl, starting at a new school.
Lisa’s meet-cute is with Brendon Alexander, an excellent student and star athlete. While Brendon wrestles with his friends after football practice, his shirt gets pulled up. Lisa notices an odd scar on Brendon’s chest, and she recognizes it as a sort of mystic symbol, but that’s it–she doesn’t suddenly tell Brendon he’s a werewolf or wizard or the Antichrist. (Both of Lisa’s parents are anthropologists, which is how she recognized its nature)
The biggest crisis their relationship faces during the first 85% of the book is how to get some quality time alone. Between their interfering friends and ever-lurking moms, smooching time is at a minimum. Worse still, Brendon’s mom dislikes Lisa, and Lisa’s mom isn’t wild about Brendon, so that sure as hell doesn’t help things
What I liked about “Shadow Keeper” is the way M.K. Yarbrough didn’t throw us headlong into a world full of demons or other ghoulish sorts. The story developed naturally, as a boy and girl like each other, and try to date. Their romance feels real, not overly sappy or cliched.
The problem is Lisa’s father. He’s been locked in a psych ward for months after going a little nuts during a hiking trip. He got lost, then when help arrived, he attacked various rangers and police officers who tried to help.
Again, Mrs Stratton, Lisa’s mom, is an anthropology professor. She knows the nature of her husband’s research; she’s read his notes, and she can tell Mr. Stratton has been possessed. The hospital won’t let him leave, so she enlists a Catholic priest to give exorcism a shot. That doesn’t work.
One day, Mrs Stratton receives a call saying that her husband is doing much better. She, Lisa, and Brendon go up to see him. As soon as Mr Stratton senses Brendon’s presence, he becomes violent, slapping his daughter and wife around, and trying to attack Brendon. Fortunately, Brendon is a big, strong football player, and can hold his own until the orderlies take over. (Once Brendon leaves, Mr Stratton continues to improve, which is why he’s allowed to leave the hospital later for an overnight visit–something important happens that night)
As events unfold, Brendon learns that he has inherited a special gift from his father: he has the spirit of a Native American spirit guide, and he seems like the only hope the Stratton’s have of getting Mr Stratton back.
Brendon is not someone accustomed to the supernatural. His dad died when he was young, and he’s been raised Baptist. His mother never mentioned the spirit world or his father’s “special hobby.” When Brendon asks what his father did, his mother replies that he installed heating and air conditioning systems. No mention of the demon-fighting gig.
Naturally, there’s a showdown, with Brendon testing his mettle against the demon who’s haunted his dreams for months.
“Shadow Keeper” doesn’t rush toward anything. The pacing is relaxed and steady, and I like the way the characters are drawn. M.K. Yarbrough does a wonderful job holding the reader’s interest, creating a sense of foreboding without cramming in an unceasing parade of danger. In some series, the new girl shows up for her first day of school, and suddenly the entire town has supernatural occurrences around every corner. I like that this isn’t the case here. There is one case, one person possessed, and he’s in a hospital. Brendon doesn’t suddenly become Albus Dumbledore. He studies what he has to so that he’ll be ready for the one battle he’ll face.
Lisa and Brendon make a charismatic couple. Lisa is shy and reserved, where Brendon is more outgoing, without being a cliched jock. His reason for playing sports is to earn a full college scholarship. He likes football, and he’s good at it, but it’s not his life.
I didn’t know what to expect from “Shadow Keeper.” I suppose I was expecting a standard YA Paranormal book, which would have been fine. Instead, “Shadow Keeper” proved more than that, transcending its genre, and creating an evenly paced, relaxing book that weaves an intricate story, rather than simply tying together a bunch of spooky events. After a busy week, this was a nice book for a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Highly recommended. (5 stars out of 5)