Chasing Shadowsby Swati Avasthi
Release date: Sept. 24, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit—fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftops to rooftop.
But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…
After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?
In this intense novel, Swati Avasthi creates a gripping portrait of two girls teetering on the edge of grief and insanity. Two girls who will find out just how many ways there are to lose a friend…and how many ways to be lost.
Swati Avasthi has been writing fiction since she read Little House in the Big Woods at age five.
Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, and others furthered her addiction. She institutionalized her habit at the University of Chicago, where she received her B.A., and at the University of Minnesota, where received her M.F.A. Her writing has received numerous honors including a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, the Thomas H. Shevlin Fellowship, Loft's Mentor Series Award, and a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. She is a creative writing professor at Hamline University and lives in the Twin Cities with her two large-ish dogs, two small-ish kids, and one husband (though he is worth two).
When the idea first came to you, what compelled you to write Savitri, Holly and Corey's story?
Joking aside, Chasing Shadows originated for me as a response to a moment in my life when I was first confronted with the notion that safety is an illusion and that we are all vulnerable. When I was 18, a girl that I had been friends with in middle school, was shot and killed in what was called a drive-by shooting. (The case is still unsolved). In the moment I found out, I couldn't respond. Not at all. All my words -- that which I loved best in the world -- abandoned me. I didn't know how to mourn her and, because we hadn't spoken in four years, I wasn't even sure I had the right to mourn her. I never sent her family any good wishes or flowers or anything until, on the 20th anniversary of her death, I wrote to her mother. When I finally did mourn her when I was in college (and even now when I think about how much more life I've lived than she ever got to), I mourned her alone. No one who knew me at the time had met her.
What I know now about violence is how severely it isolates its victims, its witnesses, and its expanding ripples of collateral damage. What I know now is that after any kind of emergency, people you called friends step away and others, who become friends, step up. Friendship in the face of violence is a very powerful thing -- perhaps even more important than the violence itself. I've lost and made a number of friends because of violence.
Was the plan always to make Chasing Shadows a blend of novel and graphic novel? How did the concept evolve?
No, I had thought I'd write another straight prose novel. But a confluence of things brought me to the hybrid approach. When I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I was so pleased to see how time worked differently when you told stories using images. (In that case, the affect of the train bearing down on Hugo and flipping the pages as it came closer and closer astonished me. I thought: yes, I can slow down time in prose, but I can't get that effect because it takes longer to read the words. The visceral effect gets lost in prose.) And then I became interested in what else worked differently. So the cerebral part of my brain was chewing on that.
At the same time, I was writing a story in which a girl who was obsessed with comics lost her mother (at the time it was her mother) and who, in response, was starting to lose herself while her friend tried to keep her steady. I didn't know how to bring across such a visceral shift. As I followed Holly's love of comics, I realized that I should let her narrate part of the story in graphics because that is how she thought and talked and showed how her refuge into graphics could also accentuate her isolation and decline. Her love of comics and how she thought/talked translated in the prose sections into Holly's seemingly Strange Capitalizations of Words Mid-sentence, which is rather like the boldface of comics.
Comics and superheroes seem to be a bridge throughout the novel both for the characters and the readers. Did you realize that culture would run so deeply in the book?
Well, yes. This one I actually did know once I decided on the form. If you make a choice to do something unusual with form then the story has to support it. I didn't know that the discrepancy between the comics that I grew up on (the Indian stories) were so wholly different than the American stories, so that then became a great way to explore the facets of interracial friendships.
How did the importance of relationships in Chasing Shadows factor into having a deeply intertwined trio (as opposed a single main character) at the center of the story?
Chasing Shadows was always about friends for me -- about how violence creates and breaks friendships. But Corey came late to the story. I realized that Sav didn't really have a relationship with the victim and it was really hampering her arc, so I switched things around.
What scene means the most to you personally or which was your favorite to write?
My favorite scene to write was between Savitri and Josh just after the funeral when Sav finally breaks. The first time I wrote it, I wrote it between a character who is long since gone, who was a friend of Sav's and the scene was so flat. It was Sav crying and the friend comforting her. There was no tension. I threw Josh into the mix and the scene just popped. It was the first time I felt like I had a handle on Sav, whose narration had remained unnaturally calm and somewhat closed off to me. Whether it is true or not, I feel like I've hardly revised that scene since because every time I went to do it, it was just such a pleasure.
Describe your next project in five words.
Too early to talk about. (Five words).