The Shepherd by Travis Luedke
September 30, 2013
Genre(s): Paranormal (YA)
Skate punks, kleptomaniacs, clairvoyant visions and reincarnation…
Mike Evans here. Sixteen year old skate punk squatting in a white-trash trailer park with my loser drunk Dad. Seems I lost most of my friends when Dad lost our home in foreclosure. Only Anita stuck by me. Worse, I keep having strange clairvoyant visions of things that always come true.
Then I almost ran over Nadia in my Geo. A passing truck finished the job – left a crumpled heap of skin and bone on the road. I fixed her. Me.
Now this fourteen year old girl won’t leave me alone. I sorta let her sneak in my window when she needs a place to crash.
I have a double life: daytime at school, Anita, skating, and then my nights with Nadia. She's my secret friend, gives me money and listens to my problems when nobody else will.
My world is spinning out of control. Old friends have turned enemy, my grisly visions of death won’t quit, and Anita’s intentions make my head spin. Even with all that, I’ve got bigger stuff to worry about.
Nadia’s hiding something.
This book includes mature subject matter that may not be appropriate for readers under the age of 18.
THIS is why I love kids’ books. Young Adult. Whatever. The synopsis for this one caught my attention right away… High school boy, somewhat disenchanted, and altogether normal — except for that whole having visions bit. I half expected a nosedive into the paranormal in a way that wouldn’t do justice to the high school backdrop. Instead, I was completely hooked in just the first chapter.
Mike Evans seems like a perfectly normal teenager living in an entirely realistic world. His mother passed away in childbirth, and his currently unemployed father has a drinking problem, leading to neglect but never quite crossing into abuse. Mike’s just trying to navigate his way through high school, that strange bubble where even the slightest misunderstandings are amplified and the difference between friends and enemies is only a day or two. While many stories might use these things to dial up the angst, we readers instead get a look inside the mind of teenage boy, understanding of his place in life and just accepting it for what it is.
He thinks he’s in love with the unattainable girl, the one who used to be his friend, back when life was simpler, and is now dating his arch enemy. His former best friend has had a sudden personality transplant, all in the name of hanging with the cool kids, and his remaining best friend harbors a quiet devotion Mike is entirely too blind to see. Enter tragic visions of the future and an otherworldly girl, and the story subtly takes a turn into the paranormal, all while never leaving the crazy that is high school far behind.
Natasha/Nadia is an odd one. She appears out of nowhere and brings some much needed relief from reality. The nights they spend talking and cementing a friendship for a while appear to be the one bright spot in an otherwise dreary life. But for all the good she brings him, there’s something…not quite right. She appears suddenly and when he least expects it, she looks like she’s fourteen and yet seems to have no ties to anyone but him, and she’s suspiciously adept at avoiding Mike’s questions.
Anita is Mike’s anchor to the “real” world. She’s his best friend, one of the guys, and throwing hints at him left and right that she wants to be more. Mike, of course, has that little problem known in some circles as testosterone, and it makes him dumb as a box of rocks when it comes to seeing Anita as anything more than a buddy. Anita is refreshingly direct, though, and in a girly, teenage tantrum befitting any high school girl, she just spells it right out for him, figuratively knocking him on his ass while also knocking some sense into his thick boy skull.
Mike’s visions, though, are pretty much useless. His attempts to warn people of mortal trouble before it happens are ignored, if not laughed off, and he knows better than speak up too loudly and sound like a mad man. They do, however, give him better insight into the not-so-normal situation he’s in with the not-so-normal girl who sneaks into his room each night. I’d tell you more, but it would ruin the absolutely brilliant way the author introduces us to the real Nadia. That’s something you’ll want to experience for yourself.
Nope, can’t think of one thing I didn’t like about the book. It’s that much fun.
All in all, it’s a healthy dose of the paranormal coupled with the very real dynamic of high school purgatory. I could say I love this book, but that doesn’t come close to the obsessive way I read through it in one night. Luckily, I’m a hell of a speedy reader, since I’m pretty sure if I had called out of work just to read and find out how the story ends, it wouldn’t have gone over very well with my boss. But it sooooo would have been worth it!