It’s time for another review and this week it’s the turn of The Sham an indie YA novel by Ellen Allen. If you’re into thriller type stories with a murder mystery edge then this is absolutely the book for you. In fact, I’d recommend this to anyone; it’s one of the best books that I’ve read in a while and I was purposefully arriving at work half an hour early so that I could sit in the staff room and read before my shift.
I loved, loved, loved The Sham. So much so that I found myself picking up my kindle to read it whenever I had a spare couple of a minutes. I devoured the book in just a couple of days, quite the achievement when you consider that my activity on the blog at the time of reading was at a minimum thanks to work and study.
Emily Heath lives with her stepdad and mother above a grocery shop in the small English town know to locals as The Sham. She seems pretty miserable about it but then what teenager isn’t miserable about something? Enter into her life, the mysterious Jack; he comes from seemingly nowhere, is reluctant to talk about his past and consumes food with a ferocious appetite. There’s something not right about Jack; he senses things and his brain seems to be shutting down. At the same time mysterious graffiti has been appearing all over town and on top of that one of Emily’s classmates has gone missing and Jack is suspected of being involved.
The Sham begins with a particularly nasty scene in which a small child is bullied by a group of teenage girls. This really isn’t for the faint hearted- it’s nasty, really nasty because it isn’t just your run of the mill name calling, it’s brutal and the boy is very young. But then life can be pretty nasty too and if you’re made of the stuff that can get you past the first scene then I think you might enjoy this book.
The novel is a page turner right from the get-go. Allen keeps the reader wondering about who Jack is, why does he sense things? Why does he feel so uncomfortable in his own skin? Where did he come from? And at the same time we’re left wondering what happened to the missing school girl. That was the real pull for me, I kept developing theories about what could have happened and why and at the end of it all I was proved completely wrong on every count. I’d spent the whole novel expecting one thing and being served up something entirely different and that is what I find so appealing about The Sham.
At the same time, we’re drip fed bits of information here and there about Emily’s home life; her mother, father and baby sister. We learn a bit about her schooling and her relationships with the nasty girls from the beginning of the novel. Some readers might find that they’re frustrated by Emily’s actions but you don’t have to agree with her to want to keep reading, in fact at times I found my confusion was what drove me to turn the page; I wanted to read the consequences of what I felt were her poor decisions and feel smug about knowing that I was probably right.
Now, it wont be everyone’s cup of tea; Allen has a particular style of writing that I have noticed after reading some Goodreads reviews that some people simply can’t warm to, it’s somewhat dream like in parts. Secondly the adult content is pretty violent, these girls aren’t just nasty, they’re evil, but whilst you’re not going to encounter groups like that every day, I’m fairly sure they exist however rarely, besides it’s a story and they’re allowed to deviate from reality if they so choose. Nevertheless, if you prefer your novels plainly written and with less mature content (and you’re perfectly entitled to) then I’d steer clear of The Sham.
It is a very different read to other YA novels, possibly because it’s intended for the older end of the YA spectrum. There’s no insta-love or female main character with a chip on her shoulder and a point to prove to herself and the rest of the world. It’s not dystopian and it isn’t a coming of age novel which is another reason why I love it so much. Don’t get me wrong, I love me a dystopian future, am entertained by John Green and can’t get enough of supernatural young adult fiction but The Sham is just so fresh that I honestly can’t think of anything to compare it to.
*The book is probably not suited to a younger teenage audience; there are depictions of murder, adult situations, conversations about sex and a scene depicting animal cruelty and abuse.