Meet Alice Levitt. She’s a 16-year-old “high functioning depressive” who lives with her egotistical criminal lawyer father. Alice deals with her beloved mother’s death and her disgust of her distant father by working compulsively –she has an A+ average and two part-time jobs. To calm the screams inside her head, Alice cuts herself.
Her only lifeline is her cousin, Chloe, who takes care of her infected cuts and begs her to stop. But Chloe can’t help Alice much when she already has so many problems of her own. In fact, her main value to Alice is to give Alice someone to care for and think about so she won’t have to examine her own questionable behavior.
Like the shadow boxes of the title, Alice’s world is starkly compartmentalized and monochromatic. When events are narrated by Alice, there is a palpable sense of the rage and futility she struggles ceaselessly against. The monocular focus on details like the bag people on the streets, the smell of local Yiddish take-out blended with the acrid stench of the tobacconist’s, and the irrelevant histories of local landmarks demonstrate Alice’s hyper focus on irrelevancies in order to stave off emotional examination.
In this authentically voiced YA novel, Alice bitterly strives to replace her mother in supporting and caring for Chloe, whose own parents are absent. Through the course of the novel, though, she discovers support she never knew was out there, first from strangers, then from people closer to her, and stops isolating herself like a figurine in a shadow box.
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