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Saturday, July 30, 2011

'Shift' by Em Bailey

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

There were two things everyone knew about Miranda Vaile before she'd even arrived at our school. The first was that she had no parents - they were dead. And the second? They were dead because Miranda had killed them.

Olive Corbett is definitely not crazy. Not anymore. These days she takes her meds like a good girl, hangs out with her best friend Ami, and stays the hell away from the toxic girls she used to be friends with. She doesn't need a boyfriend. Especially not a lifesaver-type with nice eyes and a broad back. And she doesn't need the drama of that creepy new girl Miranda trying to make it with her ex-friends. But then, against all odds, Miranda does make it with them. Or she best-friends one of them and makes the others go away. As Miranda emerges from the shadows, Olive begins to realise something sinister going is on. Something almost…parasitic. Either Olive is losing her grip on reality, or those crazy rumours are true. Maybe Miranda is a killer. But who would believe Olive? She does have a habit of letting her imagination run away with her…

Miranda Vaile was infamous long before she set foot in the small suburb of Jubilee Park. Stories about Miranda were swirling in the weeks prior to her arrival – stories about her life in Europe, the crazy aunt she was coming to live with . . . and the fact that she killed her parents.

The attention and attraction of Miranda is a reprise for Jubilee Park’s resident psychotic – Olive Corbett. Olive, whose family life has disintegrated in the wake of her ‘mistakes’ and recovery from circumstances unknown. Olive, who used to rule the school with her best friend, Katie – but in recent months has filled out, quirked-up and shut herself away. Not even the cute new guy at school, Lachlan, can distract or tempt Olive back to the glamorous clique. She seems content to wear her frumpy op-shop clothes and hang with her new friend, Ami.

But when Miranda and Katie start an unlikely and suffocating friendship, Olive becomes suspicious. The closer Miranda and Katie become, the more Katie seems to be vanishing before her very eyes – wasting away into a thin, sunken-eyed shell of her former self. Meanwhile, Miranda flourishes – her glassy eyes reflect Katie’s old verve, her hair has a similar shine and lustre that once crowned Katie’s head and Katie’s boyfriend is even gracing Miranda’s arm.

Something is not right about Miranda Vaile. But, then again, something is not right with Olive Corbett either.

Shift’ is the new YA novel from Australian author Em Bailey – a pseudonym for Meredith Badger, of the highly-acclaimed ‘Go Girl’ and ‘Zac Power’ books for younger readers.

I saw this novel advertised at the recent Australian Bookseller’s Association book fair – the cover was utterly striking, and when I read the blurb I was doubly intrigued. And it seems my curiosity served me well . . . because I think ‘Shift’ is shaping up to be a hot new Australian release.

Our narrator is Olive Corbett – a wise-cracking, self-imposed outcast from a broken home who is hefting a heavy weight on her shoulders. Olive is initially intrigued with Miranda Vaile for the same reason as everyone else – the rumour of her parricide. But when Miranda is revealed as an ordinary orphan, content to slink into the background, Olive’s private hopes for a little excitement are dashed . . . until Miranda takes a keen interest in Olive’s ex-best-friend and current tormentor, Katie.

Miranda’s fascination with the beautiful and popular Katie is at first hopelessly embarrassing, but quickly progresses into an unlikely friendship, and then devolving into an unhealthy obsession. As the girls seclude themselves into a private clique, Olive becomes increasingly paranoid that Miranda is up to something – convinced that the new girl has ‘mirror eyes’ and is starting to resemble Katie . . .

And herein lies the brilliance of ‘Shift’ – for just as Miranda’s behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, so too does Olive reveal some deep cracks within herself. Olive talks cryptically of fearing the ocean since her ‘incident’. She blames herself for her parent’s divorce, but won’t discuss the circumstances surrounding her father walking out on the family. Olive admits to having seen a Dr. Richter for some time, but refrains from detailing the reasons for her visits. Thus, as Olive begins to notice Miranda’s strange behaviour, so too will readers begin to pick up on Olive’s oddity . . .

Em Bailey has written a mystery within a mystery as ‘Shift’ straddles the line between psychological and paranormal, sinister and supernatural – taking readers on a rollercoaster thrill ride that dips into the damaged psyche of a young girl, and then soars back into a horror novel of epically spine-chilling proportions.

The novel is a real chill-ride for a number of reasons – not least of which is the genre guessing-game. ‘Shift’ works so well because Bailey has captured and distilled the menace of high school with ironic brilliance. It’s disturbing that, as you read, you’re never quite sure if Miranda is something dangerous and supernaturally ‘other’ . . . or if she’s in fact just another queen-bee bitch from the popular hive. Is Olive seeing something dangerous and paranormal in Miranda – or is she simply another high school menace?

There’s also a small romance in the novel, as Olive becomes begrudgingly enamoured of the popular new boy, Lachlan. But Olive’s murky past and her current loner-status make her wary of starting something with one so beautiful and clearly meant for better things than her frumpy old self. I really enjoyed this romance, even if it wasn’t always the focus of the novel. Lachlan is charming and sweet, a rarely understanding teenage boy who is enraptured by Olive’s quirkiness. And as the novel progresses, he also becomes a lodestone for Olive’s sanity.

“Do you believe that weird things can happen?” I said. “You know – the kind of things that you shouldn’t really believe in if you’re a normal, sensible person?” I was speaking quickly, before I could change my mind.
Lachlan was silent for a moment. The water lapped around us. “I guess I believe in grey,” he said eventually.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s something my grandpa used to say,” said Lachlan. “Some things aren’t straightforward. Not everything is true or false. Real or imaginary. It’s not that simple.” He looked at me, a shy smile on his face.

Olive was wonderful for her imperfections. She’s a very messy character (not least because she’s an unreliable narrator) – but Olive’s cryptic past, her self-hatred and coping mechanisms make her infinitely fascinating. She’s definitely not your typical heroine – but I found myself liking her for her flaws and rooting for her, regardless. If I had any complaint it’s that I felt Bailey didn’t address Olive’s home life satisfactorily by book’s end. Much is made of her father walking out on the family months ago – and I expected a dénouement would have to include a confrontation with the absent patriarch . . . but it never happens, and Olive’s ending seems slightly unfulfilled because of it.

Em Bailey’s ‘Shift’ is ‘Jennifer’s Body’ meets ‘The Roommate’ in a novel that’s supremely chilling and psychologically thrilling. Bailey writes a masterful mystery and plays a guessing-game with readers as she meshes supernatural horror with high-school melodrama through the fissured psyche of a young girl.


Publication date: 1st September 2011

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