When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari

When Shadows Fall – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: deep human impulses power storytelling.
Children’s book title: When Shadows Fall.
Children’s author: Sita Brahmachari.
Genre: Young adult fiction.
Published by: Little Tiger
ISBN: 9781788953160
Recommended for children aged: 14+.
First published: Hardback November 2021.
This children’s book is ideal for: Key Stage 4 readers and book clubs.

When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari

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Our review:

“If ever you get sucked down into Shadowlands remember no matter how bleak, seasons change.”

This novel is full of memorable lines and passages but for me, this one captures the essence of the story. Descent into the Shadowlands may be caused in many different ways – personal tragedy, family and friendship breakdowns and even global pandemics, but the seasons do change. Love and creativity will lead to hope and a restoration of self-worth and growth.

When Shadows Fall is written using a combination of powerful first-person recount, narrative verse and extracts from the journals and writing of the main characters, and it works brilliantly. There is a great sense of life and freshness that carries the reader along as we ride the currents and contemplate the eddies of the lives of the young people. We care deeply about the friends and their families as the story explores their connections, dreams and difficulties.

The sense of place is extraordinarily strong in When Shadows Fall. We are in a large, anonymous city. Friends Kai and Orla are neighbours in flats overlooking a patch of green –“the Greenhill” where they spend much of their out of school time. Their friend, Zak, is from the “big houses on the other side of the rec” and somehow this is important because it means he doesn’t share in the warmth of the balcony culture and the neighbourly comings and goings of the flats, but Zak is a good friend and good friends are important. Adding to the powerful sense of geography is the nearby Tower, with its resident ravens and the school, with its protective railings and finally, the bothy, surrounded by brambled undergrowth, that the young people restore and make their own, and later Sula’s tree.

The time shifts in the story are well handled as the narrative moves from the present when the friends are eighteen and about to receive exam results and move onto the next stage of their lives, back to when Kai, Orla and Zak are eleven and moving from Primary to Secondary School. The innocence of these early, formative young friendships – sharing secrets and den building are beautifully realised by the author. Indeed, the quality and power of the writing in this book is simply outstanding.

The birth of Kai’s sister Sula brings joy and warmth and love to his family:

“When I look at mum all I see is sunshine pouring out of her, bathing us in her happiness … Dad slings his arm round my shoulder. “You’ll take care of her with us”….Our home is love, laughter, tiredness and brightness.”

But this domestic harmony does not last and there are strong hints of foreboding scattered throughout the early years of the story – ravens, discordant music and the confusion of mixed messages.

Kai’s family suffers a dreadful loss and he watches his family tear itself apart as he is trying to deal with his own grief. Dangerous paths and tempting alternatives present themselves and Kai’s story shifts from the innocence of the child to the corruption and destruction of that innocence by human experience. The powerful influence of friendship and the ties that bind become crucial to Kai’s salvation.

The novel does much more than just describe people and locations; it examines deep human impulses. We all need, love, acceptance and security and these human needs contrast acutely with the isolation and instability that often confront the characters in When Shadows Fall. The important power of the creative impulse – articulated through writing, storytelling and art is central to the life of the novel and the failures of a systems-driven society that so often neglects and then ignores young people are laid bare. Everyone has a story to tell and as the author’s note at the end of the book tells us –

“None of these characters should be left to fail and fall”.

This is an important book in so many ways and one which works on so many levels. I found myself enthralled by the power of the storytelling and how Sita Brahmachari’s sheer joy of writing transported me to the world of the urban Green Hill –

“I take a pen out of my pocket… to write a new beginning. As I do I’m blasted by the bright, sweet voice of a song thrush. I close my eyes picturing the words that flow now from my pen as they sing through me “

Many thanks to Little Tiger for the review copy.

If you like When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari you might also like: our Autumn term 2021 books to look out for list, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Taylor Before and After by Jennie Englund, Challenge Everything by Blue Sandford and Notes on my Family by Emily Critchley.

Browse more books for Key Stage 4

About Patrick Sanders

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Patrick is a former secondary English teacher and headteacher with over 35 years of experience. He is a husband, father and grandfather. Reviews by Patrick Sanders