Title: My Father’s Shadow
Author: Jannali Jones
Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller
Favourite Part: Just when you think you’ve figured it out, Jones throws a curve ball at you!
The Black&Write! Fellowship has produced some cracking reads so of course I couldn’t wait to dig into Jannali Jones’s debut. The blurb for My Father’s Shadow doesn’t give much away so I will endeavour not to as well—forever the battle of reviewing mystery books is wanting to gush over the twists and turns but being unable to. Especially with a book that is so fast paced and so gripping that I couldn’t help but finish it in a single afternoon.
My Father’s Shadow opens with Kaya being woken in the middle of the night by her mother telling her to pack her bags. They’re leaving in ten minutes and her father isn’t coming back. Leaving their phones in the house, they drive out to Blue Mountains through the dead of night. Kaya’s father has been involved in a court case against dangerous criminals and Kaya is also a witness in the case, although her PTSD has erased large portions of the encounter from her mind. Fearful that the criminals are coming for her, she abandons her old life to live in secrecy with her mother. But as the months pass by and the trial draws closer, Kaya’s memories are slowly starting to return and new mysteries begin to present themselves. Kaya no longer knows who she can trust and wonders whether she will ever feel safe again.
It’s a testament to Jones that amongst the creepiness and the mysteries, she still manages to capture the difficulties of teenage relationships so well. Whether it’s the fractious relationship between mother and daughter, the intimate bonds of two best friends, or the awkward friendship of a teenage girl and boy, Kaya’s interactions with the people around her can emulate all the angry, nervous, cringey and difficult moments that punctuate our teenage years; all while dealing with the fear of an ever-lingering threat! But amongst all the tension and the drama are the moments that make you smile. Memories of daddy-daughter dinners and conversations with her best friend, Jenna, break up the rising tension of Kaya’s current life, slowly revealing the key moments that lead her to her current predicament.
Kaya’s relationship with her mother is the focal point of the story. Their close quarters and need for anonymity as they hide form the basis for much of the early tension in the book. Her mother’s strict rules isolate Kaya by restricting her ability to contact old friends or make any new ones. Unable to properly discuss her grief or fear, Kaya becomes desperate for a friend her own age. What’s more, her mother’s moods seem erratic and while Kaya is unable to talk to anyone, her mother has her friend, Bennett, who increasingly becomes more involved in their lives. The book rides waves of tension, as clashes between mother and daughter seem inevitable. However, the situation often leads them to bury arguments without ever truly having had one thereby building the tension with each subsequent clash. While the mystery and fear in this book provides the backbone of the plot, it is very much a family drama as well.
Woven into some of Kaya’s less stressful moments are reflections on culture and understanding. Kaya’s mother is of Aboriginal descent and does not engage with her culture, leading Kaya to wish that her Nan was still alive to teach her more about her heritage. Kaya’s new friend, Eric, is of Korean descent and his family retain much of their culture and family expectations. Kaya admits that she is jealous of Eric’s closeness to his culture as she feels like she has lost her own. There are various moments when she recalls her Nan; the stories of the Blue Mountains and the traditional views her Nan held. While this theme of cultural understanding and cultural loss is never at the forefront of the story, it sits, simmering beneath the surface of many of Kaya’s interactions reminding the reader of the important role culture can play, particularly in an adolescent’s life.
Jones’s debut is a fast-paced, gripping read that keeps you turning the pages with expectation. With each revelation, new questions appear and as the story unfolds it still holds surprises right until its conclusion. While I started to suspect how it would end about half-way through, it’s not the ending most readers will expect, and even if you do figure it out, Jones certainly doesn’t take the predictable route in coming to the resolution. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I can’t wait to see what Jones produces next.