Title: The Shadow Collector's Apprentice
Author: Amy Gordon
Genre: Children's Historical/Mystery
Cully Pennyacre just wants his dad to come home. But as his aunts try to keep their apple farm afloat without Jack, Cully finds himself in want of a summer job. His search leads him to Batty's Attic, run by 'Batty'—a collector of antiques, curiosities, and...shadows? Cully is unnerved by Batty's strange hobby and the even stranger effect it has on those whose shadows have been “collected”. As he tries to keep a nosy realtor from seizing his home and figure out what to do about Batty's granddaughter Isabel, Cully realizes that something sinister is going on behind the scenes of his town—something that could steal away everything he loves most.
The Shadow Collector's Apprentice is a fun read. It has warmth and heart and a cast of oddball characters that make the small town of Medley come alive. It's a very 'light' book, the type avid readers might comfortably swallow in one sitting and I really enjoyed it.
The fact that the story is taking place in the background of the Cold War provides a springboard for later developments in the plot and gives the story an interesting flavor, although not much about the period or events is actually discussed.
That being said, certain portions were a bit off-kilter and the ending was a little too perfect. Don't get me wrong, because I love a happy ending, but I love a Courageous happy as opposed to a Facing the Giants happy. (i.e. The conflict is resolved, the story is wrapped up neatly. Not “Oh look, everything that was terrible is now absolutely perfect”.) There's nothing wrong with ending a story this way—we readers like having things all settled—but it almost causes us to stop caring about the characters because we can see that everything will be fine for them from now on. We're not still interested in them after we've closed the book.
The ending has a slight twist, a foreseeable one for me, but it was nice just the same. Cully, Isabel, and the three aunts are fascinating characters with their own quirks. Gordon, who's been critically acclaimed for her other books, including Twenty Gold Falcons, has a sweet and sincere style of writing; and she knows that characters are much more interesting when they're not all cut and dried, black and white. Gordon also has a nice feel for the roundness of a story—not just tying up loose ends, but starting with a small picture or question and ending with a renewed version of that picture and an answer to the question.
All in all, I like The Shadow Collector's Apprentice and recommend it for a good read on a lazy summer evening.