Weird. That is the first word that comes to mind when I think back on The Pentrals by Crystal Mack. But, weird isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Weird can be unique, intriguing and definitely a draw for many. In an era where YA novels tend to be skewing heavily to the vampire/werewolf world, it is refreshing to read a story takes a fresh view of non-human characters. The idea of shadows and reflections being sentient beings is a fascinating one. That these images are not mere reproductions of us, but thinking, acting and even rebelling entities opens an endless world of possibilities. Like I said, it’s unique!
The Pentrals revolves around two main characters (although, some would consider them one and the same): Violet, a human high school student and Antares, a class two Shadow. After growing more and more frustrated with the self-destructive behavior of her human, Antares, in a fit of anger switches places with the girl she has shadowed for seventeen years. (The book is never clear on what actually happened to allow this exchange to take place, but it is somehow related to a surge of fury when Violet takes a popular pill that makes its user forget their worries and space out happily.) Once the switch has happened, it is up to Antares to not only play the role of Violet in her day to day life, trying to repair some horribly broken relationships, but also to solve a great Pentral mystery involving the rebellion of reflections.
But, before I get too lost in my thoughts about the possible narratives attached to thinking and reasoning shadows and reflections, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I don’t totally agree with Mack’s take on the topic. Granted, it was her brilliant idea, and I do like it, but I felt like there were unexplained holes in the story or times that the actions seemed impossible. Without giving too much away, after the switch is made, Antares continues to attend some and somehow miraculously knows how to read and write, although she often talks about how much shadowing takes her full attention and she doesn’t get to follow lessons. Where would she have learned these skills? I also found it odd that there wasn’t more interaction amongst the shadows on the floor. As they constantly skim over one another in the school hallways, why is there not a layer of relationships built amongst this population of beings? I wanted to know more about their world! The other part of the book that I found confusing was how in-stride Violet took the switch. She was initially scared of the change, but it took a mere page or two for her to fall easily into her roll of learning to be a shadow. Shouldn’t this teenage girl be horrified that she has become a literal shadow of herself?
This book definitely seems set up for a sequel, which I would pick up because I am invested enough in Antares’ story to want to know what happens once her adventures in Violet’s body end, but also because I’m hoping for a few of the plot gaps to be filled in. (I really do want to know more about the working of the shadow/reflection world!) Crystal Mack’s debut young adult novel has some definite narrative gaps, but creates a world intriguing enough to draw me in for another round, earning The Pentrals: