The Thinks You Can Think – ‘Shift’ by Kim Curran

Shift, Kim Curran’s debut novel, is a triumph from start to finish. Like all good Science Fiction thrillers it has a simple premise, sets clear defined rules and (mostly) sticks to them. It is one of the best YA novels I have had the fortune to read.  If you have a reluctant reader at home, stick this under their nose; Curran’s immediate, exciting prose will have them hooked from the very first page.

Ever regretted a past decision? Wished you could take it back? Well, what if you could? That is the simple premise that Shift is based on. Shifters are rare group of individuals, who can alter their own time streams. Every conscious decision they have made, dumping a girlfriend, picking up a penny or running from a fight, can be remade. Bad deciscions can be undone, but with what consequences?

When social misfit Scott Taylor starts shifting uncontrollably it turns his life upside down. By wishing himself small happinesses, he finds himself in a living nightmare. Much as Marty McFly finds he’s destroyed his future by leaving a Sports Almanac in 1955, so it is for Scott after he wishes he were braver. When mysterious government operatives try to capture Scott for reprogramming, his life becomes even more complicated.

‘Shift’ is constructed along traditional YA lines. Scott is at school, not terribly popular and in need of an image overhaul. Shifting can only be carried out by children, and as they approach adulthood the ability to shift fades. Scott is mentored by an attractive and confident female. He finds himself caught between two factions, both claiming to be acting in humanity’s best interest. With reality now a malleable construct, who should Scott trust?

Whilst at its core Shift is similar to many other YA novels, there are a host of things that set it apart from the rest of the field. Foremost is Curran’s deft prose. The book is exciting throughout. Clear crisp sentences drive the action at a breakneck pace, with each page demanding to be read. The plot is sound, and its internal logic is maintained throughout. There are rules to shifting, and with one exception, they are upheld throughout the book (this exception I found slightly disappointing, but within acceptable artistic licence tolerances!). Characterisation is excellent.

Curran uses her device to explore the fragility of what we take for granted. How, seemingly inconsequential decisions can have unexpected consequences. Lives can be made or lost, due to the smallest things. As the novel takes a darker turn, Curran reveals the importance of self-censorship; those little decisions we fantasise about but don’t actualise so as to function as reasonable human beings. It’s an acute perception and one that I think will strike a chord with the author’s target audience.

The villains of the piece are both credible and menacing, and there are enough curve balls thrown to keep the reader guessing until the end. The novel stands in its own right but there are plenty of opportunities for a sequel. A sequel that I would happily read.

Shift is the best YA novel I have read since Neal Shusterman’s Unwind (a book I love). Full of quality from start to finish, Shift is an exceptional read. Best of all, reading Shift has solved the problem of what to buy my neighbour’s teenaged son for Christmas. It’s the perfect gift.


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