Sunday, 3 March 2013

One Boy's Shadow, Ross A McCoubrey


A contemporary LGBTQ YA with a paranormal mystery theme. 

- Review by Kazza K


One Boy's ShadowThis is an incredibly hard book to review for a multitude of reasons. If I say too much it gives away a number of things that are best read. Some of it is so every day yet reading it makes you  see how lovely it is, how meaningful, and definitely how important. It also has a paranormal element, a ghost, yet it isn't ever anything but gentle, kind, and sweet. That is the best way for me to describe the whole book, the writing style - gentle, kind, and sweet.

One Boy's Shadow has two main threads running concurrently that meet and have a profound impact on all involved. One is about Caleb Mackenzie and his family. Caleb becoming consciously aware that he is gay, dealing with that  himself initially, marking time on coming out. A loving family unit, the best older brother in the universe, first love, a first kiss, good friends. The other is about the tragic history attached to the house Caleb's family have just purchased in their new town, Stapeton. Wakefield House. Wakefield House has much speculation attached to it. What happened to sixteen year old Toby Everett who mysteriously disappeared when out hunting in the snow with his father over sixty years ago?

Caleb's dad has just received a promotion and his family are moving from the city to a smaller town, Stapeton, in Nova Scotia where there is less hustle and bustle. The boys locate a nice sounding house on the outskirts of town whilst on line. The family go to check the property out, staying at the local motel. Caleb gets to meet the owner's son, Shane. Caleb and Shane hit if off and become firm friends right from the get-go.  Caleb's family offer on Wakefield House, apart from the tragic and haunted history the house has so much going for it - it's spacious, on a good size acreage, complete with a barn, woods, clearing, trails and a waterfall. An idyllic life for a family with two teenage boys.

Thread one - Caleb and Shane start a relationship, which is tastefully handled, everything is fade to black and sensibly age appropriate for a book featuring fifteen year old characters. Shane reveals that he once stayed at Wakefield house on a dare, as it were, and Toby saved him at a very dark point in his life. It also builds on the Mackenzie family, the relationship Caleb has with is brother, Blake, which is a very good one. it looks at how happy the family in general are in their new home.

Thread two - is looking at what happened to Toby, with Toby's help, and the persistence of Caleb, Shane, Blake and Ryley, their mutual friend. The trips to the barn, when Caleb's voice is whispered or when lights are on, are always briefly revealing. But most of all the woods hold a lot of answers and much goes on there, always seemingly focused around Caleb -

What are you trying to tell us, Toby?" Shane asked the woods. "What are we not seeing?"
The air grew cold, and the four of us could see our breath in front of our faces. There was a crunching sound of footfalls on twigs, and then silence. My ears rang. Nobody moved.

The book takes place over the period of a year and is told from Caleb's POV. Little by little information is unravelled about what happened to Toby and why. It is very well done. Closer to the end all is revealed. It is very touching and also bittersweet. I have to say I knew the way things were going, what was likely to happen, but the journey was a lovely one. I actually cried like a baby at several points in the book. Particularly to do with the rose thicket.

The book is beautifully named. Toby is a ghost, a shadow, who, even though most in sync with Caleb, significantly touches four individual boys lives - Caleb, Shane, Blake and Ryley. Caleb and Blake are brothers, Caleb is fifteen/sixteen and Blake is seventeen/eighteen. Toby is the catalyst for change and people entering each others lives that may not had he not been around otherwise. It looks closely at the how times have changed and there is more hope and positivity for LGBTQ youth.
This book definitely looks at current/timely issues in a gentle yet sure manner - being young and gay, losing a parent, family, friendships, relationships, a first kiss, a first love, teenage suicide. All real and important topics in their own right. And for any adolescent reading this review who may be feeling a little down or dark - know that life does get better. There are people to talk to who care. Toby helped people in this book, in your life there are people to help you through the dark times if they come your way. Please reach out to them.

I want to add something else. This book does come off a little shiny at times. Everyone is easily accepting of Caleb, and Caleb and Shane. I know that the author touches on the fact that not every child has such accepting parents/friends. He touches on Caleb's fear of coming out. Nobody has a cross word, which is not true of life, and relationships in general. It is a lovely sentiment, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the fact that it isn't always this easy. Caleb doesn't have much angst over being gay, many teenagers do. I know this from personal and professional experience. However, you can say that the parallels between two era's is a way of looking at the fact that things have been extreme without the author being harsh in the here and now. Things have improved, but there is a way to go. If you have the support of family and good friends it counts for a lot. That is a very significant point made here.. 
Overall the writing is so strong, the characters so beautiful, that I rated this book as a five star read. Caleb and Shane will forever stay with me, such was their depth of character, and the pureness of their hearts and love. Toby was gorgeous and a reminder that love has lasting power. His story was equally poignant and played well off the contemporary setting.

Caleb and Shane say the most endearing things to one another and I teared up at some of their experiences and declarations -

I don't have my mother's eyes."
"Not in colour, no, but in depth, you sure do. If anything yours are deeper. Sometimes when you look at me, it's like, I dunno, like everything else in the world has stopped, and I just...I get lost in there." Shane was trembling a little. I sat down next to him, and he put his head on my shoulder. "When I look in your eyes, I can see how much you love me, and I never thought anyone would ever be in love with me....I think of how close I came to killing myself and how I would never have known you. I love you so much, Caleb. You're better than anything I could ever have imagined, and you're here....and you're mine. And I'm just so grateful to be alive."
I held him close and whispered gently in his ear, "I'm grateful you're alive, too."

Here the writing touches on the difficulty of being same-sex attracted. It's time to recognise that  love is love -

On Monday night, Shane called me. It felt nice to be able to talk to my boyfriend again like I imagined most couples talked, but it was hard too, as I realized most couples never had to be afraid to let anyone else know they were together. At school I watched kids kissing  and holding hands all the time without so much as a singe thought. Straight couples never worried that they might be called names or get beaten up, or worse, merely for displaying affection and being themselves. For me, it was always at the back of my mind, and when I was with Shane, it was front and centre. I hated that I  couldn't be myself with him, that I had to act like we were friends. I wanted more than anything to hold his hand and let people see us together - but only if there wouldn't be any kind of negative reaction. I felt like coward. 

I believe this is the author's first book, and he should be proud of the end result. Ross McCoubrey has infused so much love into these charming characters. The writing is terrific for gay, bi, or questioning teenage males, in particular. This book should be in community libraries and school libraries for easy access. There is much need for LGBTQ youth to feel that they are not alone. The sheer numbers of male teen suicide is horrendous and when you take the stats of gay teen males who commit suicide this book has much to say that can help and is positive. I highly recommend One Boy's Shadow for lovers of well written LGBT YA.


  1. This looks like an amazing story. I love how you brought each character out where I felt that I knew each by the time I was finished reading the review. It sounds like a wonderful coming of age story. I love how the paranormal aspect is wound into the story. I will definitely add this to my list. It looks like a really good and thought provoking book.

    1. It is a longish book and it covers a lot over a year. The mystery slowly unravels. The characters are lovely and my review truly can't do them justice. You would like this book, Cindi. I really believe you would love the characters and want to hug them.

    2. I wanted to hug them just by reading your review. It looks like the type of book where my mom instincts will kick in big time. I have added it to my list. I hope to jump into over the next few days. Great review. You got me hooked early into it. :)

    3. Your mum instincts would majorly kick in :)