Shadow Baby by Alison McGhee

556004Fiction — print. Picador, 2000. 243 pgs. Purchased.

Precocious eleven-year-old Clara prefers to spell her last name, Winter, with a lowercase ‘w’ because winter deprived her of having a relationship with her twin sister, her maternal grandfather, and the father she’s never met.

To cope — or maybe just explain what her mother refuses to tell her — Clara creates background stories for everyone she meets and reinvents the past for both herself and Georg Kominsky, the reclusive old man she’s interview for a school assignment.

I love Clara! I saw so much of myself as a child in her — the fascination with pioneers like Laura Ingalls Wilder, her bookish nature and, yes, her inventive imagination. I understood her need to fill in the blanks of her past, to invent stories to replace unpleasant memories. Is she an unreliable narrator? Yes! It’s hard to tell what’s true and what Clara has invented. But, then again, what child is?

That said, I went from loving this book to thinking it was okay by the end. I thought this was going to be one of those books that would reduce me to tears on the bus ride home from work but that ended up not being the case. By the time the emotional peak of the book came I had already (like Clara) invented my own answers to Clara’s questions and the real answers didn’t live up to my expectations.

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