Shade Me

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Shade Me Book Poster Image
Hard-edged Hollywood whodunit has sex, drugs, violence.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Shade Me features a main character with an unusual cognitive condition: synesthesia.

Positive Messages

A physical trait that seems to be a liability can often turn out to be an asset.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nikki Kill has trouble focusing on her schoolwork, is a chain-smoker, and often disobeys her father's instructions. However, she's loyal, brave, and resourceful. She's not afraid of physical danger, sometimes to her detriment. She is unapologetic about her sex life, although she does sometimes worry that she takes things too fast.


Shade Me contains a half-dozen scenes of violence. It opens with a young woman being struck with a cane. The main character, Nikki Kill, is trained in the martial arts, and when she's assaulted, she reacts with potentially deadly force, the details of which are vividly described. The climactic showdown involves guns and edged weapons, the death of a major supporting character, and lots of injuries for Nikki.


Nikki has a straightforward attitude about sex, being both active and unapologetic. She sleeps with a criminal suspect soon after meeting him. A prostitution ring is a major part of the story. Nikki disguises herself as an escort and meets a client for a date. (No sex acts occur in that scene.)


Lots of strong language, including more than a dozen instances of "f--k" and "s--t." "Ass," "bitch," "bastard," "balls," "hell," and "damn" also appear from one to a dozen times.


Brand names are occasionally specified, especially for luxury items, including a Spyder automobile and Manolo Blahnik high heels.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The plot of Shade Me involves drug dealing. An underage suspect drinks alcohol at a club. Nikki chain-smokes cigarettes on the window ledge of her father's home.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shade Me is an intense crime thriller by Jennifer Brown (Thousand Words). Set in Hollywood, it features such topics as assault, drug dealing, murder, and prostitution. It's the first book in a series and leaves some plot questions unanswered. Nikki Kill, the teen main character, is unapologetic about her sex life and, although no physical details are given, sleeps with a criminal suspect soon after meeting him. The plot involves an escort service, and Nikki disguises herself as a prostitute. Scenes of violence range from a martial arts workout to a climatic showdown that leaves a major supporting character dead and Nikki badly injured. Language ranges from the occasional use of  "ass," "damn," "hell," "bitch," and "bastard" to a dozen or more uses of "f--k" and "s--t." Various characters use alcohol, tobacco, and drugs such as Molly.

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What's the story?

Nikki Kill doesn't see the world the way everybody else does. She has synesthesia, a condition where her senses overlap and words and emotions generate colors. When she receives an emergency phone call from a local hospital, she's asked to identify a Jane Doe, a girl who's barely clinging to life after being brutally beaten. The victim turns out to be Peyton Hollis, a popular high school girl whose family is the very definition of dysfunctional. Soon Nikki is embroiled in a police investigation, a new romance, and a search for the connection between her synesthesia and Peyton's dangerous world of Hollywood excess.

Is it any good?

Reminiscent of TV's Veronica Mars, this Hollywood whodunit gets off to a fast start and quickly piles on the dangerous complications. Nikki Kill proves to be an engaging, hard-edged sleuth who knows how to unravel a clue or throw a punch. The pacing of SHADE ME bogs down a bit in the middle, however, with scenes that feel repetitive and run on too long. Fortunately, there are some intriguing plot twists in the final third that ratchet up the suspense again and lead to a climactic confrontation that will leave readers eager for the next volume. Rough language, a frank approach to sex, and detailed scenes of violence might be problematic for sensitive, younger readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about crime stories. Why are they so popular in books and movies and on TV? How do mystery novels capture the attention of their readers?

  • What role does violence play in the story? How does violence affect Nikki?

  • How do Nikki's feelings about synesthesia change over the course of Shade Me? Is her condition a liability or a benefit?

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