Plot Summary: Chris and Win (short for Winston) have graduated high school and gone off on a trek cross country. On their bicycles. It’s a dream trip for any teenage boy desiring freedom and fun...except that only one of them comes back.
I heard about this book on Jenn Hubbard’s blog. It sounded interesting, so I picked it up from my local library...then couldn’t put it down until I’d finished it.
As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.
This story is told in alternating time periods. The first chapter starts in the present: the bike trip is over, and Chris has returned without Win. Then the second chapter starts with Chris and Win first getting the idea, and permission, for this bicycle trip across the country. The chapters alternate, past-present-past-present, until they ultimately merge by laying out the whole chain of events.
I’ve read stories with alternating time periods before, and, most of the time, felt it wasn’t necessary. These stories were interesting, but didn’t NEED to be told in this alternating fashion. SHIFT, however, isn’t one of those stories. Not only is it amazingly effective, it’s the only way this story should be told. A linear story line would have made it average, even boring.
But Bradbury skillfully gives us information that furthers the story in each chapter. I mean, of course, the story as a whole. Not just that particular time period (past or present). If she had a question hanging from something in the past, she answered it in the present. And vice versa. This is NOT an easy thing to do, and I thoroughly enjoyed the thought and precision that went behind each chapter. Nicely done.
There was only one place in this book that gave me pause. That was the post card that Win sends Chris in the present. He sends it posing as a girl they’d met on their trip, dropping subtle clues to let Chris know it’s really him. To the reader, it is painfully obvious. But Chris doesn’t get it. Granted, he catches on a couple chapters later, but the way the post card was presented made me want to scream at him to turn on his brain – the brain that he says he’s been sharing with Win for the past ten years.
I realize that these things do happen, even to friends who are as close as Chris and Win are. And my guess is that the author wanted Chris to discover the post card sender’s identity at a particular moment. If that’s the case, then I think the post card should have been as downplayed as all the other ones he’d received. Since it wasn’t, the reader knows right away that there’s something special about this one. And we start looking at it closely, analyzing the details, until we’ve figured it out. Personally, I find it frustrating when I figure something out way before the main character does...but this was the only place where I had trouble.
The ending was really, really good. Unconventional, interesting, happy, and sad all at the same time. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but all loose ends were well taken care of. Much care, thought, planning, and work has been poured into this book. And it shows. Highly recommended.