Riley Bloom is 12, with almost her whole existence ahead of her. Except for her 13th birthday, that is, because–well–she’s dead. She’s a Soul Catcher, and though she’s fairly new at it, she’s already helped lead several souls to the Here & Now, the series’ version of an afterlife. Riley is aided by her guide, a teen male ghost by the name of Bodhi. She’s also rarely far from her ghost dog, a yellow Labrador named Buttercup, who died in the same car accident that killed her and her entire family. She’s got style, she’s got attitude, she’s got a rockin’ green shimmer to her; but, on the downside, she’s very unsure about herself. Everything’s new to Riley. How can she hope to succeed against a centuries-old evil force, even if it’s in the shape of a teen girl who died during a slave revolt in 1733? Read Shimmer by Alyson Noel to find out!
Who couldn’t use a little vacation now and then? Riley and Bodhi have certainly earned one, so the Council rewards them with one, and Riley’s excited to spend it on St. John’s Island. She wants to get away from it all, have fun, and romp on the beach with her dog and friend. But, just like Scooby and the gang can somehow never travel anywhere for fun without getting smack dab in the middle of a mystery, Riley, Bohdi, and Buttercup discover that tortured souls in need of help always come first, even before a much-needed “vacay.”
While playing fetch on the beach, Riley’s dog runs to retrieve the stick she throws but doesn’t return when Riley calls him. Instead, she hears Buttercup growling, and Riley knows that her dog has stumbled across something that must be very, very bad. Then, something chases Buttercup towards her, a huge dog “the size of a pony,” with “paws the size of hooves,” which is wearing “a sharply barbed collar.”
Riley naturally is afraid, and curls up into a ball, at the “oversize hellhound with matted black fur and deep menacing growls.” Bodhi tells Riley all about the ghostly dogs. They are portents of death, and have many names, such as Snarly Yow, Black Shuck, Phantom Dog, Galleytrot, Shug Monkey, Hateful Thing, and Hell Beast. Bodhi also tells Riley that the dogs often guard graves or cemeteries. Riley decides to investigate further, and she heads towards the direction the Snarley Yow came from, even though Bodhi tells her she shouldn’t, because “the Council didn’t assign it,” and “it’s none of our business.”
Riley knows that Bodhi is probably right, but that doesn’t stop her. She continues on, trying to discover where the monstrous dog came from, and Bodhi and Buttercup follows her. Bodhi’s name means “enlightenment,” or “awakening.” He is Riley’s guide, but he can’t force her to do what she doesn’t want to do. He and Buttercup follow Riley, eventually arriving at a graveyard, where they see the ghost of Rebecca, who is the daughter of a former plantation owner who died with her dog and family when their house was burned down during a slave revolt.
Rebecca drags Riley into her own world of anger, a bubble filled with hundreds of tortured souls she has imprisoned. Riley wants to rescue them and send them on to the Here & Now, but first, she has to escape the most hellish memory of her own past, and free Bodhi and her dog from the same fate of being imprisoned within their own minds and pasts.
What I like about Shimmer is that although it’s an entertaining, light-hearted novel, it also has deep meaning to it. It’s an appealing story with very likable characters, but it also will make you think about what life-after-death might be like. The novel doesn’t identify itself with any particular religious viewpoint, but the lessons Riley learns from Bodhi and others have a decidedly Buddhist or kind of psychoanalytic bent to them. To grow as a person, it’s important to realize that very often, it’s yourself and your fears that are holding you back more than anything or anyone else.
Yet Shimmer is never heavy-handed or preachy with its underlying message. It is primarily a fun, enjoyable read, and you’ll be rooting for Riley to succeed at freeing herself, Bodhi, Buttercup, and everyone else Rebecca has made her prisoners. Also, I liked reading about how important it is for Rebecca to realize that, in order to move on, she first needs to get over her anger, and hate.
Shimmer is a novel that will stay with you for a long time. It is by the New York Times bestselling author of the Immortals series, which features the teenager Ever, and is about her younger sister, Riley. The first book in the series is Radiance. I highly recommend both it and Shimmer to anyone who likes reading touching and often humorous supernatural fantasy novels. Check it out today!