The Colour of Shadows

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Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Saffron discovers a secret in the attic – a secret that changes both her past and her future…

Having believed ten years ago that her mother had become ill and subsequently died, Saffron learns that her mother is, in fact, alive and well. Angry at the years of deceit from her father and step-mother, she goes in search of the truth about her mother – and leaves home.

Homeless and alone, Saffron has to deal with the mental turmoil and anger at her father as she processes the lies she has been told. And then Saffron comes face to face with the dangers of being a homeless teenage girl…

Author: Phyllida Shrimpton

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐.5

Warnings: Homelessness, underage drinking, and grooming.

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While I do enjoy reading YA contemporary, it’s not my favourite. I much prefer contemporaries to tackle the hard-hitting issues teenagers and young adults face without making it full of sunshine and daisies and rainbows. I want the characters to get hurt. I want to see them destroyed. I know, this makes me sound like a sadist, but my favourite books are the ones where the MC’s get absolutely and utterly destroyed but not broken. This is primarily one of the reasons why I adore YA fantasy so much – man, those characters do not get a break and I LOVE that. So when I came across The Colour of Shadows on NetGalley, the synopsis really tugged at me. It’s the story of a teenager who discovers she’s been lied to, that her mother is not dead like she had been led to believe, and who runs away from home on a journey to find her mother… well, I did say that I wanted books that tackled the hard-hitting issues. I’ve been wanting to read more contemporaries lately and so this seemed like the perfect book for that. The Colour of Shadows is a book that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming simultaneously.

The Colour of Shadows is told by the perspectives of Saffron and Tom. Saffron is the seventeen-year-old main character, who comes from an affluent family that consists of her dad, step-mother, two younger brothers, Daniel and Archie, and her younger sister, Charlotte. They live in a large five-bedroom house. Saffron and her siblings rarely want for anything. Whereas Tom, our other main character and, you guessed it, the love interest of Saffron, comes from a much more humble background. Not much is known about Tom’s background at the beginning except for the fact that he very clearly does not have a large house to go home to with the same luxuries as Saffron. The set up of the contrast between these two characters is important from the very beginning. It has an effect on their personalities and the way in which they deal with the conflict within the book.

‘How’s your dad? Does he still think I wait on street corners to contaminate you with my urchin-ness?’

Saffron Hayes is not a likeable character. Not even slightly. She’s spoiled, ungrateful, selfish, and cruel to her family and friends. And that makes complete sense. She’s supposed to be like that. You’re supposed to go on this journey with her. Her behaviour and reactions, while not entirely ones that I agree with, are understandable. How would you feel if you found out that one of your parents had lied to you and told you your other parent was dead? Surely you would be furious. I know I would be. I completely understand Saffron’s reaction to that discovery. The part of her characterisation that I did find an issue with was her naivety. I know there are seventeen-year-old who are that naive, just as there are adults who are incredibly naive as well, but it did feel as though the naivety was played upon due to her age. Not everyone under eighteen is naive, just as not everyone over eighteen is not naive. It was added to allow for the conflict in the story when, in my opinion, the conflict could have happened without playing to the typical stupid rich girl stereotype. I would have believed in her character a lot more had this not been her main trait.

While I didn’t necessarily like Saffron, I did find her journey of self-discovery and harsh truths to be commendable. It’s one that I could relate to, which might have been the reason that I disliked Saffron so much, because I’ve been in a not-quite-similar position and know she was simply setting herself up to fail. Yet, regardless of how you feel about Saffron, her quest to find her biological mother is one that showcases bravery, tenacity, and resilience.

Now let me tell you about Tom… I loved Tom. He is one of those pure and wholesome characters that you can’t help but fall in love with straight away. He is the polar opposite of Saffron. Where she is brash and stubborn, he is gentle and patient. Not much is known about Tom, although plenty is alluded to, until the end when the Great Big Mystery is finally revealed (obviously). Tom does appear to be somewhat unnecessary to the story except to break up the story to another perspective, but, as I mentioned before, there needed to be a contrast between the two main characters, and when the Great Big Mystery is brought to Saffron’s attention, everything gets put into perspective. Saffron has her head in the clouds. Tom is pure reality. Between the pair of them, there is a balance.

‘Everyone has a shadow, Saffron, but if you look deeply enough you’ll find the colour in them.’

The Colour of Shadows is definitely a character-driven story. There is a plot, which is essentially exactly as the synopsis describes, but this plot is not the main focus. No, the main focus is on the self-discovery Saffron embarks on (I know, I know, I’ve mentioned it a few times already), and the importance that family does not necessarily mean related by blood, because you can be related by blood and not have it mean a damn thing.

An important aspect of this book, one that I have to share with you before wrapping this review up, is the theme of homelessness that occurs. Saffron does not find herself homeless but rather makes the decision to sleep rough. As a result, she joins a group of homeless individuals who band together under a bridge to take shelter from the harsh winter weather and begins to get to know them. At first glance, the homeless may appear crazy. They may appear as though they’re only homeless because they cannot put the bottle down, because they’re not able to resist the temptation of drugs regardless of the fact that addiction is a disease. The majority of homeless cases are not a result of this. Many are veterans. Many have faced difficult financial times due to being laid off work or being unable to work. Many have been through a trauma that most of us may never, ever know. The different reasons for homelessness is an area that Shrimpton highlights in her book. I absolutely love the way Shrimpton portrays the homeless characters in her book. She humanises them. And rightly so. They’re not dirty. They’re not rats. They’re human.

‘I felt like I’d just opened my eyes to a whole other reality from the one I’d been living in and it was proving difficult to understand. Ex home owners, university students, service men and women, disillusioned teenagers and people from dysfunctional families. It was all around me and it was all so unfair.’

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s quite a short read and I did feel as though it were a little bit too short. I would have liked to have seen one aspect of the conflict towards the end of the book handled differently, however as it only occurred towards the end, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this book. The delicate subject matters are handled with care and attention (although, the teen stereotype could use a bit of work), and they left me feeling moved by the final page. The Colour of Shadows is not a light and fun read but it is one I’d definitely recommend.

The Colour of Shadows is now available to purchase from Amazon UK and The Book Depository.

A huge thank you to NetGalley and Hot Key Books for providing me with a free e-ARC of The Colour of Shadows in exchange for an honest review.

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  1. This sounds like a very powerful book, I always enjoy reading stories where characters go on a journey of self-discovery, having to overcome challenges and obstacles along the way. It’s refreshing to hear the book tackles homelessness in a sensitive way and educates people on the realities rather than the stereotypes. I’m interested to find out how someone of such a young age deals with so much all in one go, I’m definitely going to have to give this a read sometime. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Kelly, your reviews are so well written, detailed and your writing style is a joy to read. Fab post, as always! <3 xx

    Bexa |

    1. It’s definitely powerful. It’s so nice to see a book that tackles homelessness in a sensitive light that portrays the homeless as being more than their stereotypes. It’s one of those books that tugs on the heartstrings! Aw, thank you so much, that’s really sweet of you to say! 💜

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