Shift, by Kim Curran

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Publication date – September 4, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) When your average, 16-year old loser, Scott Tyler, meets the beautiful and mysterious Aubrey Jones, he learns he’s not so average after all. He’s a ‘Shifter’. And that means he has the power to undo any decision he’s ever made. At first, he thinks the power to shift is pretty cool. But as his world starts to unravel around him he realises that each time he uses his power, it has consequences; terrible unforeseen consequences. Shifting is going to get him killed. In a world where everything can change with a thought, Scott has to decide where he stands.

Thoughts: I have to give Curran props here. Usually when book summaries involve the phrase “beautiful and mysterious [name],” I get turned away pretty quickly. That sort of thing rarely appeals to me. But the rest of the concept, playing with timelines and overwriting them to get your desired result, was interesting enough to make me overlook that and to give the book a try.

There are rules to shifting, too, and ones that I was happy to see. If two shifters are facing off, the final timeline is determined by the stronger shifter. One can only shift decisions that they themselves made, meaning that unless a shifter’s conscious decision is pivotal to huge world-shaking events, nothing can be done to change them. Previous shifted timelines do not exist simultaneously; they collapse as soon as a new timeline kicks in, meaning that shifting isn’t a case of dimension-jumping so much as actively tapping into how time itself works.

Shifting isn’t always an awesome easy way out of bad decisions, either, since it’s very hard to predict how the ripples of any given choice can spread. Scott finds this out early on when he changes his years-ago decision to stop kickboxing lessons, and learns that other decisions on that timeline led to his younger sister being killed in a car accident. There’s a very strong “be careful what you wish for” message throughout the novel, and Curran makes a good effort to show how far-reaching any one decision we make can actually be.

But in spite of some really strong concepts and foundations, I didn’t find Shift to be particularly well done. The first third of the book feels very rushed, as though the author was more interested in getting past that annoying set-up and discovery phase to reach different parts of the plot. And that feeling was cemented by the fact that as soon as Scott formally joins ARES, a government organization that regulates and supports shifters, things slow down and get more focused and detailed. Unfortunately, this left me feeling somewhat lost as to why I should care about Aubrey, who seems to exist mostly for plot conveniences and to be Scott’s crush, and I was trying harder to pin down Scott’s personality and tone because so much of who he is gets glossed over and shoved to one side.

Scott as a character alternates between interesting and eye-rolling. He has realistic reactions, thought processes, and speaks colloquially, which is perfect for expressing that he’s a confused teenager who’s just been thrown into the middle of a strange situation. On the other hand, well, he’s a super-powered teenager. Not just super-powered in the sense that he can shift, but because the later a person discovers that power, the stronger they are. And Scott came upon it very late in life, so he’s pretty much established right away as one of the strongest shifters alive. Hence the eye-rolling. When a character is super-powered even by the definition of the other super-powered, it feels very much like a one-up, like one of the only ways to make a character interesting was to make him be the absolute best at something.

Fortunately, Curran does combat that to an extent, with weaker shifters overcoming Scott by banking on his insecurity and him not knowing he’s strong enough to overcome them if he tried. Which was an interesting subversion, I admit. But it begged the question of why he had to be established as so strong in the first place. The only reason I can think of is that it allowed Scott to pass the ARES training program so quickly, which again makes even a well-written section of the book seem rushed.

Shift had a fascinating concept behind it but poor execution. Curran can write very believable teenagers but doesn’t seem to have the same strength when it comes to pacing, and that spoiled a lot of the book for me. And even the characters didn’t really solidify until a good chunk of the novel was already behind me. I think part of the problem was that there was too much here for such a short book. It may have done better to be lengthened, elaborated on. Even another 100 pages would have made quite a difference, if used well. And from the better parts of the novel, I think Curran indeed has the ability to use that space properly, since the sections that had good pacing and clear narration were shining examples of what a good YA novel can be. It’s just a shame that they were so few and far between, and most of them happened in the last half of the book.

I do have the sequel to this, and I hear that Control is an improvement on Shift. Curran’s creativity has caught my interest enough that I’ll probably give the next book a try, and see what I think of it. The series hasn’t been spoiled, but I will approach it with a degree of trepidation, and my expectations for it won’t be as high as they were for this one.

(Recevied for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)