Saturday, June 8, 2013

Review: Under Shifting Glass by Nicky Singer

Under Shifting Glass
by Nicky Singer

Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 320
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication date: February 19, 2013
Suggested tags: young adult, realistic fiction

From Goodreads:
"Jess has a secret: a mysterious glass flask she finds in an heirloom desk's hidden compartment. Its surface swirls with iridescent colors, like something's inside, something almost like a song, something with a soul. No one else sees anything under the shifting glass, but Jess is convinced there must be some kind of magic in there. And when her twin brothers are born critically ill, Jess begins to believe that the force within the flask just might hold the key to saving her brothers-and her family. In this emotionally rich novel, award-winning author Nicky Singer crafts a world of possibility that is steeped in hope and the power of love."

{ I received an ARC for free through Early Reviewers on LibraryThing. }

Wow. This book was beautiful. I wasn't expecting it to really touch my heart like it did. I kind of thought it would be a book about Jess's family troubles with a paranormal twist in the form of the flask. But it was so, so much more than that. I really am just in shock with how fantastic this book was.

Under Shifting Glass does deal with Jess's family - her mother (pregnant with twins), her stepfather, and her grandmother. But it also deals with Jess's beloved Aunt Edie, who has recently passed away, and throughout the book we see Jess progress through her grief over her aunt's death towards acceptance and peace. As if this wasn't enough for a young girl to deal with, her father has also passed away, and she's struggling with her relationship with her stepfather now that he'll have children of his own when the twins are born. Her friendship with her closest friend Zoe seems to be falling apart, and Jess doesn't know how to fix it. And then her twin brothers are born conjoined, and the outlook is grim.

It's hard to classify this book. Is it realistic fiction? Fantasy? Magical realism? Even when you reach the end of the book, you're not quite sure (more on that in a bit). Under Shifting Glass is labeled as Young Adult on Goodreads and Barnes & Noble, but I can see where a Middle Grade label would fit too. Jess is 12 years old, and at times I felt like her thoughts and actions might appeal more to younger readers. But then again, she is facing some very grown-up problems as well, and she does show some incredible maturity which brings her story right back to the YA level. I finally had to force myself to stop trying to label the book and just read.

Singer has a stunning way with words. Jess is a sweet narrator who wraps you up in her world; I felt her pain over the loss of her Aunt Edie, her joy at seeing her brothers for the first time, her hopelessness when her problems seem to stack up endlessly. She is dealing with so much and she's handling it as best she can, but she's looking for a reason behind it all, or a way to fix it all. As she learns more about the flask, she realizes that perhaps the flask itself the solution. There is a beautiful mix of something mysterious, something supernatural, a bit of desperate superstition on Jess's part, and a touch of religion. After everything is resolved, Singer leaves it up to the reader to decide what really happened... Was it a miracle? Was it the flask? Was it nothing special at all - just the way of things? I thought this was wonderful, as each reader can take away whatever they wish from the story.

In the middle of the book, Jess and her friends learn about Buddhism for a class assignment. To be honest, as I was reading that part, I was wondering where Singer was going to go with it or why exactly she chose to include it in the story. But I thought the way Singer tied it in at the end was quite nice, with Jess's gift of eucalyptus to her Aunt Edie. The Buddhism aspect may be a little much for some readers ("much" being perhaps a little too heavy on the religious/spiritual side for those who prefer not to read about religion, or being perhaps a little too complicated for younger readers), but it hit me just right.

I can see where this book wouldn't appeal to everyone, but in the hands of some readers it will become a new favorite. It certainly became an instant favorite for me, and I'll be on the lookout for other books by Singer.

Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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