Title: Shadow Baby
Author: Alison McGhee
Some books grab you by the throat and don't let go until you read the last sentence. Others slowly creep up on you and before you realize what's happening, sink their hooks in you. This book is one of the latter variety.
Clara winter (she insists on the lower case 'w') is twelve when she narrates her story, about the year before when she befriends the old man. His name is Georg Kominsky, an immigrant in her Adirondack New York town who she plans to interview for her class oral history project. The old man is a man of few words, like Clara's unmarried mother, but Clara, a precocious child with an active imagination who writes made-up book reports as good as actual books, has words enough for both of them.
Clara makes up stories, too, to fill in the gaps in her knowledge: about the old man's past, about her twin sister who died in childbirth, about the grandfather she doesn't know. Clara aches to know about herself and her absent twin, to make connections, and the reader aches with her. McGhee's prose is insightful and quietly revealing, full of wonder and beauty and underlying sadness, as Clara — who is both mature beyond her years and childlike at once — grows up between the age of eleven and twelve. Slowly, bits of the past are revealed to Clara and the reader
To say more would give away too much of this gem's charms. But what a nice ending for my reading year.