Book Review: Shifters, Douglas and Angelina Pershing (2013)

December 11th, 2013 9:26 am by Kelly Garbato

Editing superpowers, engage!

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the author’s invitation.)

Fourteen-year-old Tanner Ascunse and his twelve-year-old sister Ryland are about to find out that they’re adopted. And that’s not even the most shocking part: the siblings are aliens, refugees from the planet Gaia, one of twelve colonies ruled by the Shifters.

Made faster and stronger (thus able to “shift,” or move more quickly than the human eye can perceive) through generations DNA mutations, Shifters have special “Apts” (aptitudes) and “Endos” (endowments) that give them unique powers. Some, like Tanner, can control technology; others, such as Ryland, can fly – or at least appear to. Other powers include the ability to shift while holding objects, to hide from cameras and other tech, and to see the future. But these abilities don’t emerge until adolescence, leaving young Tanner and Ryland blissfully unaware of their true origins.

Believing themselves superior, the Shifters subjugated their Ordinary brothers and sisters, exploiting them as a cheap and expendable source of labor. To the Shifters, the Ordinaries are “less than.” But Shifters and Ordinaries alike are human. When humanity colonized the universe thousands of years ago, the location of Colony 7 – earth – was kept secret from the Shifters, and the Ordinary Earthlings were able to live and evolve free of Shifter interference.

All this changed when a powerful Seer predicted that a young Shifter would one day disrupt the power structure, helping the Ordinaries to rise up against their Shifter overlords. Fearing the imminent loss of power, the Shifters immediately slaughtered their children. (Talk about hard core!) A lucky few children escaped to earth, escorted by rebel Shifter and Ordinary adults. Unbeknownst to many of the refugees, they were pursued by Shifters intent on thwarting the prophecy. Twelve years after their escape, Tanner and Ryland must battle their people, and the shadowy government agents they’ve aligned themselves with, in order to save themselves – and everyone they love.

When the author asked me to review Shifters, he likened it to I Am Number Four (which I enjoyed; the sequels, not so much). While the two do share some similarities – e.g., the protagonists are alien refugees who must battle evil on earth in order to save both their adoptive and native planets while also navigating the perilous waters of adolescence – Shifters clearly skews toward the younger end of the YA spectrum. The heroes range in age from twelve to fifteen years old, and the dialogue reflects this: “like,” “as if,” and “oh my God!,” are common utterances, and the book includes enough ellipses to make one’s eyes bleed. Though it’s been a decade and a half since I was a teenager, and this may very well reflect current teenspeak, it makes for tedious reading nonetheless.

Shifters is told from the dual perspectives of Ryland and Tanner (in a way that echoes the shared authorship of father-daughter team Douglas and Angelina Pershing), a convention which I’ve come to enjoy. Each chapter begins with Tanner and ends with Ryland, in a way that makes it feel as though the siblings are standing right in front of you, breathlessly relaying the story like a team of marathon runners. This should move the story along more quickly – but since the siblings tend to “talk over” each other, backtracking in order to pick up threads already dropped by their counterpart, correcting or even sniping at each other, the overlapping POVs are often redundant, and just bog the story down further. Also, the sibling rivalry becomes rather obnoxious after the first few chapters. As the oldest as four kids, the bickering sounds all too familiar to me – a little too familiar to be entertaining, you know?

At times the teenagers’ utter lack of common sense seems borderline criminal. For example, when Tanner – now a fugitive on the run – spots a creepy old man photographing them from across the street. Rather than realize that they’ve been discovered, he assumes that the guy’s an architecture aficionado who’s interested in the motel, rather than the criminals checking into it. Really?

The book also displays some casual sexism (e.g., crying is not masculine; girls need pretty things) which, while perhaps reflective of real world attitudes, is disappointing nonetheless. (And are we really to believe that mom made Tanner wear his older brother’s hand-me-down underwear because she blew the entire clothing budget on Ryland’s extensive wardrobe? Like, ew!) There is a rather entertaining scene in which Kai, pretending to be Kyle’s boyfriend, plays off the Keepers’ presumed homophobia in order to circumvent questioning – but this is swiftly negated by Kyle’s reaction (“Gross!”). While it’s true that Kyle also finds heterosexual PDAs icky, there is no touching, kissing, or groping of any kind involved in Kai’s ruse; the mere implication that he might be gay is deemed disgusting. Is this really an attitude we want to pass on to younger readers?

And then there’s the waffle scene with Solé. Sheltered all her life, Solé becomes downright giddy at the prospect of visiting a big city – and all the fast food joints contained within. She especially loves sugar, which she was never allowed to have. According to Ryland, “Her parents were vegan or something. Apparently most of the food she’s eaten has been home grown and made from scratch.” As a vegan of eight years (vegetarian for seventeen), I can assure you that I eat my weight in sugar on the daily. While I do garden in the summer and enjoy making meals from scratch, most of my food is store-bought. Also, it’s totally possible to grow non-vegan food; see, e.g., the backyard chicken craze. THE MORE YOU KNOW (and shooting star).

(To be fair, it’s possible that one or more of the authors are vegan, or have friends or family who are vegan, and thus are hip to and poking fun at common misconceptions about veganism. But I rather doubt it.)

As another reviewer noted, Shifters has an interesting premise that suffers from poor execution. While the first and last hundred pages mostly held my attention, I found the middle half plodding. I think a heavy-handed editor could cut 50 or even 100 pages without detracting from the story. Additionally, there are a number of grammatical errors. While I didn’t actively search for them, I spotted missing quotation marks; words inappropriately capitalized mid-sentence; geographic terms that should be capitalized but aren’t (e.g., “middle east”); even a word or two spelled incorrectly (“site” instead of “sight,” for example). Again, a professional editor would come in mighty handy here.

The first book in a series, I think I’ll pass on the sequels. I wanted to like Shifters, but it just didn’t do anything for me.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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