Friday, February 22, 2013

Review - "Under Shifting Glass"

Liminal space is a threshold, a between points no-man’s-land that wavers between being one thing and being another.  In Nicky Singer’s Under Shifting Glass, Jess learns all about liminal space:  the space between being a friend, and no longer friends; the space between family and not quite family; the space between a childhood and young adulthood; the space between living and dying.  The novel begins with the death of Jess’ Great Aunt Edie and quickly moves into the perilous birth of her conjoined twin brothers.  Suddenly Jess’ life is full of “joins”, and she struggles to keep herself, her friendship and her family together.

After Jess inherited her Great Aunt Edie’s desk, she finds a mysterious flask inside that seems to be filled with an otherworldly substance, floating ethereally, making the glass shimmer, shine or grow dark, depending on the situation.  Jess is convinced this flask is the key to her new brothers’ survival, and seeks to understand the mystery while at the same time making deals with the universe that young Richie and Clem will be healthy and endure their up-and-down stay in the hospital leading up to their surgical separation.

Under Shifting Glass doesn’t always work.  The magical realism of the flask is weak and Jess lacks agency as she appears to be at its mercy.  I understand the author’s intent to the leave the veracity of the flask and it’s “powers” to the reader’s decision, but flimsy as it is, the plot point doesn’t carry weight.  What does carry its weight is Jess’ very real struggle with her best friend, her contentious grandmother and her uncertainty within her own family as to where she now fits.  This is where Jess becomes relatable and sympathetic.  Everyone can understand the pain of a friendship hitting the reef and the relief that comes when that conflict is resolved.  Anyone can relate to the insecurity of familial roles.  Jess struggles not only with her new brothers, who have taken up everyone’s thoughts and energies for months, but with her step-father, who she loves but in some ways, fears to claim as her own.

As I said, Under Shifting Glass doesn’t always work.  Genre bending, it could have been helped with a little more weight in one direction or another.  But it does work as an adolescent drama about a girl dealing with very real stakes in a very uncertain world.

Under Shifting Glass by Nicky Singer
2013, Chronicle Books
Preview copy provided by publisher for review


  1. This is The BEST book ever

  2. my nephew, Carissa loves this book! she read it for hours!

    1. I know right? its so good!!!