Bookshots: 'The Shark Curtain' by Chris Scofield
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
The Shark Curtain
Who wrote it:
Debut author and former special education teacher, Chris Scofield
Plot in a Box:
An ostracized teenage girl who experiences strange visions navigates the difficulties of adolescence.
Invent a new title for this book:
Read this if you liked:
Unexpectedly, this reminded me of Allie Brosh's webcomic-turned-graphic-novel, Hyperbole and a Half.
Meet the book's lead:
Lily Asher, a girl whose reality doesn’t always match what the rest of the world sees.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Kara Hayward from Moonrise Kingdom.
Setting: Would you want to live there?
Actually, yes (I feel like I rarely write that in this section). Oregon in the 1960s seems like a pretty intriguing place to be.
What was your favorite sentence?
In the Record of the Month advertisement, Jesus stands on a surfboard advertising Jan & Dean's Golden Hits. On page sixty-five, He pulls up the collar of a London Fog raincoat; He sits in a cafe smoking a Kool on page ninety-eight.
The “shark curtain” refers to Lily’s fear that she won’t know danger is coming until it’s too late, due to the “curtain” of water that obscures the oncoming shark she sees in an episode of Sea Hunt. This is characteristic of the kind of logic Lily uses to explain the world. At other times, she comes to believe that she’s growing a vestigial tail, and that her old Halloween costume is howling at her.
Reading through Lily’s perspective almost feels like being underwater, as though the normal laws of physics are still there but slightly altered. There are moments when it’s difficult to keep up, when the stream of thoughts begins to scatter too widely, but throughout there’s always the sensation of genuinely being inside a real person’s head. As the story proceeds and Lily confronts grief, sexuality, and loss of faith, her inner reality begins to seem like the more sane one.
The Shark Curtain’s characters are multi-dimensional, from Lily’s flawed parents and hippy aunt, to her painfully blunt classmates. But her hallucinations are as interesting as the “real” people surrounding her at school and home. Instead of being portrayed as frightening or dangerous, they can be quite benign. Jesus is always popping out of the woodwork, cracking his knuckles or riding on the back of a garbage truck. It’s actually Lily’s differences— the things that set her apart and make her a “weirdo”— that make this a story worth reading.
Scofield also deserves credit for the well-researched setting. Her decision to place the story in the sixties feels natural, and she navigates that space in time as well as if The Shark Curtain took place in the present. From Beatles cards to Keds shoes, even very small details seem authentic (at least to someone like me, who never saw the sixties in person).
Chris Scofield has written a young adult novel that doesn’t compromise integrity for trendiness. I don’t expect that it will be the next Fault in Our Stars; it’s complex and quirky and probably won’t resonate with everyone who picks it up, but there can be no doubt as to its uniqueness.
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