When Shadows Fall
Sita Brahmachari, illustrated by Natalie Sirett
Massive in impact, – I often read right through a book I’m loving but I had to pause and set this aside and do some deep breathing several times as I read this intensely powerful work, so raw inside did the writing make me feel – and towards the end when I read what unfolded on 18th December I found myself unable to hold back my tears.
Using a combination of very powerful first person recounts, journal extracts, narrative verse (including that of a pair of ravens) Sita’s lyrical tale of love, loss, grief, forging connections is told from several viewpoints, but chiefly that of Kai. We also hear from Orla – she, like Kai lives in the high rise flats, Zak (from the big house on the other side of the wilderness), and later in the book, from Omid (Om). Om is a gifted artist and having gone through loss and trauma himself develops a special understanding of Kai who, by the time Om comes on the scene, has lost his much-loved baby sister Sula causing his family to fall apart. I can’t speak too highly of Natalie Sirett’s hauntingly evocative illustrations that are also interwoven into the story.
Kai, Orla and Zak grow up near an abandoned piece of wild ground, the Rec. where they unearth and restore a bothy. This is a kind of paradise when they’re young but it later becomes the place of Kai’s corruption; but not only that: it’s also the backdrop to incredible creativity by Om and Kai: a place that must be protected and saved from developers by the Greenlands Guardians.
Further adding to the amazing sense of place are Sula’s memorial tree, the nearby Tower, with its resident ravens and the school, with its protective railings.
Is it possible for Kai, who has left behind his childhood innocence and now seems on a path to self-destruction, to be pulled out of his Slough of Despond?
Ultimately those bonds of friendship, forged both in their childhood and later with the coming of Om, prove the more powerful and along with the creativity that Om sparks, lead to Kai’s salvation.
Including several sensitive topics – infant death, attempted suicide, drug abuse and gang culture – the author emphasises the importance of understanding the reasons for the choices made. With its wealth of life lessons, this is surely destined to become a modern classic. I’ll finish by quoting these wonderful words from the epilogue: ‘I take my pen back out of my pocket … to write the new beginning. As I do I’m blasted by the bright, sweet voice of a song thrush. I close my eyes, picturing the words that flow now from my pen as they sing through me.’
Sita Brahmachari’s storytelling has certainly sung through this reviewer; Natalie Sirett’s art too has sung through me. Awesome.
Endorsed by Amnesty International UK