What does it mean, to do the wrong thing for the right reasons? 16-year-old Winnie, the self-reliant narrator of Deborah Hemming’s taut novel Throw Down Your Shadows, is about to learn that painful lesson.
It’s summer, 2005. Winnie lives with her artist mother, Ruth, in Gaspereau, a small rural community next door to Wolfville, in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, wine and apple country. Winnie, something of a tomboy, regards girls her age as shallow and uninteresting and wants nothing to do with them. Instead, her best friends are Tom, Jake and Sam, three boys with whom she spends most of her time, biking around, swimming, or just hanging out in each other’s company. An exclusive group, they are also honest, responsible and community-minded. She and Tom work summers at a U-Pick. Jake helps his father on the family farm. But this is the summer when everything is about to change.
Winnie’s relationship with her three friends becomes strained when Caleb’s family settles in Gaspereau, having moved across country from Vancouver. The boys invite Caleb into the group, and immediately Winnie finds herself witnessing a gradual shift in the balance of power. Accustomed to being in control and getting her way, Winnie discovers that she is helpless to counteract Caleb’s slow and sneaky seduction of her three friends. Caleb, with his personal magnetism, air of mystery, big-city smarts and blasé contempt for authority, draws Winnie and the others into a petty crime spree. It all seems like harmless fun. After all, the losses are minor, and nobody’s being hurt. But then, to her horror, Winnie realizes that a profound physical attraction to Caleb is changing her. Not only does she tremble at his touch, seek his glance, and agonize over whether or not he feels the same way, a relentless and powerful craving for his approval is blinding her to his true nature. Confused by the emergence of these new feelings, annoyed that Caleb seems to be toying with her affections, she finds reasons to excuse his behaviour and resists clear evidence that he poses a genuine danger, not just to her and her friends, but to the entire community. But Winnie is also pragmatic, cautious and observant, and as the summer passes and school starts again, she can no longer deny that the threat is real and imminent. Deeply ashamed of her failure to protect her friends, she decides that drastic action is needed.
In her debut novel, Deborah Hemming has written a deliberately paced and gripping story of adolescent angst. Throw Down Your Shadows is a psychologically probing and morally complex novel, one that also displays patience and a deep sympathy for adolescent states of mind. Winnie’s voice is convincing, her dilemma heart-rending as she leaves innocence behind and her eyes are opened to unwelcome truths. Does she make the right decision? In the end, is the pain she causes worth an uncertain victory? Writing with admirable restraint, Deborah Hemming leaves it to the reader to answer these questions.
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