Chasing Shadows

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Chasing Shadows Book Poster Image
Realistic teen tragedy blends well with fantasy graphics.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a little about Hindu mythology and about the sport and art of free running.

Positive Messages

The central message of Chasing Shadows is the transformative power of physical and emotional pain and how some kinds of fear hold you back from achievements while others keep you safe. Personal safety seems like an illusion when a traumatic event like a shooting can happen to anyone at any time. Friendship changes over time, and the story explores whether it's possible to hold on to loved ones too tightly or too long.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Savitri is a loyal, self-sacrificing friend and academic star accepted into Princeton University. Holly is a complicated character who models great strength of will and determination but whose grief causes strange behavior. Male characters Corey (Holly's twin brother and Savitri's boyfriend) and Josh (Holly's boyfriend) are realistic, complex characters who display some selfishness but also a lot of maturity, supportive loyalty, and self-sacrifice. Parents are present, loving, and supportive though sometimes hard for the teens to understand.


The traumatic event is a shooting, which is narrated in detail and depicted in the illustrations three or four times. The written depictions mention and describe blood but are otherwise not gory (the injuries are not described in any detail). The illustrations include close-ups of a bullet leaving a gun and are very dramatic but not bloody or gory. Later Holly hits the shooter, and Savitri hits him once with a gun. A creepy illustration of the afterlife shows gaunt, ghostly souls trapped in a cage. In a defense-training class, Savitri loses control and knees her sparring partner in the crotch hard enough to make him collapse.


High school seniors in long-term relationships kiss about four times, but the kissing is not described in detail. One kiss happens when Holly tries to seduce Josh and mentions that she takes off her bra and unzips his jeans. Josh turns her away that time, but a pregnancy scare in the past (mentioned two or three times) make it clear they've had sex, and the pregnancy test is illustrated although not in great detail. Holly mentions that her period was a week late. Condoms are arranged lewdly on Holly's locker at school but they're not described. A past argument between Corey and Savitri about whether to have sex is related briefly.


"F--k" and variations are used four or five times. "S--t" is used about eight times. "Ass" and "bastard" are used a couple of times each, and "boobs" and "nuts" are used once each. Name-calling includes one or two uses each of "slut," "d--k," and "twit." "What the hell?" is used once, as are "screwed over" and "gangbanger ass."


McDonald's is mentioned three or four times, as are Flites shoes and Smith & Wesson 9mm bullets. Coke and Issey Miyake perfume each are mentioned twice. Single-mention products include Subaru, Mini Cooper, Pop-Tarts, and Cosmo magazine.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Bad-guy Wiry is illustrated smoking. Holly finds midazolam, a powerful sedative and pre-anesthetic, and drugs Savitri with it.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi, with graphic-novel illustrations by Craig Phillips, chronicles the friendship of Holly and Savitri in the aftermath of a random shooting as they learn to cope with their grief and fears. Although the central event is violent, traumatic, and dramatically illustrated and reverberates throughout the book, there's no gore. Some blood is described but none is illustrated. The high school seniors are liberal with swear words, mostly "f--k" and "s--t," when talking among themselves but speak appropriately with adults. The few sexual incidents are mainly kisses that aren't described, but some of the background between Holly and Josh involves a scare when Holly thought she might be pregnant.

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What's the story?

CHASING SHADOWS, a graphic/traditional-novel hybrid, tells the story in words and pictures of twins Holly and Corey and best-friend Savitri in the final months of their senior year in high school. Their lives are dramatically altered when, on the way home from free running, Holly and Corey are victims of a shooting and Savitri is a witness to it. Holly's mechanism for coping is to retreat into fantasy as she imagines herself becoming a superhero called The Leopardess. The different ways she and Savitri cope with the knowledge that their lives could end at any random moment drastically affects their friendship and their future.

Is it any good?

In Chasing Shadows, author Swati Avasthi creates realistic, believable characters whose older-teen interactions are particularly well wrought. The different narrative voices are distinct and well balanced and offer nuanced looks into the heart of a lifelong friendship. The action moves well and builds to a climax that's intense and cathartic while staying refreshingly realistic.

Punctuating the emotionally charged prose are a dozen or so black-and-white illustrated spreads of varying lengths by Craig Phillips. These mostly convey the fantasy afterlife that Holly retreats into as she tries to rebuild her life, but they sometimes ably advance the narrative as well. The spreads are well laid-out and easy to understand, following as they do well-established comic-book conventions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why superhero stories are so popular. Why does The Leopardess appeal to Holly?

  • Do the illustrated sections help tell the story or get in the way? Would Chasing Shadows be better or worse without them? Why combine narration with comic-book-style pictures?

  • Have you or a friend lived through a traumatic or scary event? Did it change you or the friend in important ways? Did it change your friendship?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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