Shadowed Strength, a YA supernatural romance, opens with a graphic scene of attempted sexual assault of the heroine, Melanie. The assailant is a stranger who attacks her at knifepoint. (Note: this information is not a spoiler; indeed, the book should come with a content warning.) Any book whose plot turns on rape must put a reader’s guard way, way up. Such books are very difficult to pull off without trivializing rape itself even as they try to address it.
But not only does Shadowed Strength have rape to contend with, it also takes on body positivity, as the heroine struggles with her self-image due to her weight. The school bully calls her “piglet.” She constantly worries about her own “fat rolls” (her words). She has a crush on her best friend, Jeremy, but figures he’ll never love her because she is overweight.
Soon, however, the hero—her former best friend—chooses her as his girlfriend, and they declare their love. They also take on the mystery of her attacker, who has started stalking Melanie. The stalker’s tactics, in the opinion of the kids (the heroine is sixteen), force matters into their own hands rather than allowing them to reach out to the police. The avoidance of the police is one of the least credible aspects of the story. Teens do dumb stuff and keep really dumb secrets from adults, but this particular secret-keeping did not ring true.
Another thematic problem arose with the body positivity issue. Melanie struggles with her self-esteem and weight throughout the book. Toward the end, however, her weight decreases and confidence increases—both through supernatural means. As a reader, this supernatural intervention into one of the most common struggles that teen girls face was deeply disappointing. The message seemed to be this: if you want to be thin and confident, live in a supernatural world. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.
The final third of the book took an exciting turn as the heroes came up with their plan to take down the stalker-rapist, with Melanie leading the charge. It was great to see her transform from a meek milquetoast into a strong, confident woman. It just would have been better if the cause could have been her own inner happiness and strength rather than a boy and superpowers.
A generally well-written YA supernatural romance with a pleasantly imperfect heroine. Zippy plot toward the end.
The Rating4 Stars (out of 5): Recommended. For the right audience, this book is a great read. It can hold its own against any traditionally published novel in its genre.
The Pros & ConsPros: Emotional, Page Turner
Cons: Starts slow