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Shadow baby
1st Three Rivers Press ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Three Rivers Press, [2009?]
Physical Description:
247 p. ; 21 cm.
Eleven-year-old Clara is struggling to find the truth about her missing father and grandfather and her twin sister, dead at birth, but her mother steadfastly refuses to talk about these people who are lost to her daughter.


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A young girl forms an unforgettable friendship with an elderly neighbor while searching for answers about her family's past in this national bestseller and Pulitzer Prize nominee.

Eleven-year-old Clara is struggling to find the truth about her missing father and grandfather and her twin sister, dead at birth, but her mother steadfastly refuses to talk about these people who are lost to her daughter. When Clara begins interviewing Georg Kominsky, a lone old man, for a school biography assignment, she finds that he is equally reticent about his own concealed history. Precocious and imaginative, the girl invents version upon version of Mr. Kominsky's past, just as she invents lives for the people missing from her own shadowy past.

The journey of discovery that these two oddly matched people embark upon is at the heart of this beautiful story about friendship and communion, about discovering what matters most in life, and about the search to find the missing pieces of ourselves. McGhee's prose glistens with shrewd truth and wild imaginings, creating a novel that will reverberate in the hearts and minds of readers long after the book is finished.

Author Notes

Alison McGhee lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

She is the recipient of a Loft-McKnight Fellowship, a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, a 1995 Editor's Fiction Prize from Snake nation, and a Pushcart Prize honorable mention. Her title Bink and Gollie, Two for One with Kate DiCamillo made The New York Times Best Seller List for 2012.

(Publisher Provided) Alison McGhee was born on July 8, 1960 and attended Middlebury College in Vermont. Her first book, Rainlight, won the Great Lakes College Association National Fiction Award and the Minnesota Book Award in 1999. She writes books for all ages including picture books like Countdown to Kindergarten and Mrs. Watson Wants Your Teeth, young adult books like Snap and All Rivers Flow to the Sea, and adult books like Shadow Baby and Was It Beautiful?. Her other awards include four Minnesota Book Awards, the GLCA National Fiction Award, Friends of the American Library Award, Gold Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Award, ALA Best Books for Children, and Parents' Choice Award, and a City Pages Artist of the Year award. She is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Metropolitan State University.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Loss, guilt and regret are conquered and transformed in McGhee's graceful second novel (after Rainlight), a poignant tale of family history regained. Events of her past year are narrated by 12 1/2-year-old Clara winter, who spells her surname with a lowercase "w" as "a rejection of winter, an acknowledgment of what winter really is and how it can kill." Though Clara's mother, Tamar, never speaks about the past, refusing even to name the father and grandfather Clara has never met, Clara knows she was born in a blizzard that probably killed her twin sister. Her grandfather, driving her mother to the hospital from their remote North Sterns home in upstate New York, took the wrong road and ran his truck into a ditch. Stranded, Tamar delivered her own babies, and only Clara survived. Obsessed by her mysterious past, Clara tries to create her own world, reading avidly, writing brilliant school reports on imaginary works, creating story lives for real people. When she meets a solitary old man who hangs his beautiful, hand-crafted lanterns in the dark Adirondack woods, she feels she has found a "compadre." Immigrant metalworker Georg Kominsky also knows the power of winter; as a youth, the lantern he left with his younger brother failed to guide the boy through a deadly snowstorm. Clara becomes Georg's apprentice in "the art of possibility," scavenging with him discarded tin cans he transforms into "objects of light." Gradually, gently, Georg points Clara toward the answers she craves, and teaches her to see beauty in the overlooked and forgotten, even in past tragedy. With a mix of deadpan humor and pathos, McGhee perfectly captures the voice of a sensitive, wise child on the cusp of adulthood, at once knowing and na‹ve. Agent, Doug Stewart. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

McGhee's young, curious protagonist Clara winter (she prefers a lowercase w) is imaginative, bright, and persistent. Clara writes book reports for class assignments of books that are her own creation and seems to appreciate life more than the adults around her, except for the old man Georg Kominsky (some people call him George). Clara interviews him for an oral history project, and the two instantly understand each other. Clara is the only child of a single mother who refuses to talk about the past, and Georg is in his seventies, without family and alone. Clara sees herself as an apprentice to Georg; he talks about metalworking and helps her to understand her mother. Clara is at the prepubescent "awkward" stage and yearns for her twin sister, who died at birth. Her mother, Tamar, seems cold; and her unwillingness to address painful memories leads Clara to create stories of her family. McGhee's work, full of contrasts and transformations, is a strong, solid novel with quiet feminist undertones. Virginia Woolf would be proud. --Michelle Kaske

School Library Journal Review

Adult/High School-Clara Winter, 11, narrates this flashback about her friendship with elderly Georg Kominsky, an immigrant living in her upstate New York village. Their relationship begins as a school oral-history project, and the two form a bond over hot chocolate and cookie baking. Georg is a good match for Clara, who is anything but an ordinary child. She creates extravagant book reports for nonexistent books and makes up such vivid family history that she forgets it is fantasy. Mr. Kominsky teaches the girl to scavenge for discarded materials to make into useful and beautiful objects, like the intricately patterned lanterns he designs and hangs, lighted, throughout winter for the local people. Through their friendship, the child learns, "the art of possibility; and the possibility of beauty." They also share secrets. Clara yearns for her twin sister who died at birth, and for her grandfather whose mistake caused the twins to be born in a stranded car in a blizzard. Georg had to leave his injured brother in a blizzard on the trip to America and never saw him again. When Georg dies saving Clara from a fire in his trailer, his guidance enables her to talk to her mother about her twin and to bring her grandfather back into their lives. Clara's insights bring both introspection and humor to this skillfully told story about seeing and finding the possibilities in life.-Becky Ferrall, Stonewall Jackson High School, Manassas, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Second-timer McGhee (Rainlight, 1998) hits a home run with a feisty little heroine who often seems equal parts Huck Finn, Eloise, and'well, maybe Shakespeare's Beatrice-to-be. Clara winter's mother, Tamar (more about that lower-case 'w' in a minute), is no slouch either, since otherwise she'd never be able to keep up with her 11-year-old quick-as-a-wink daughter, something she in fact does very well indeed, though invariably playing her cards extremely close to her chest. Deep secrets are what's at issue in this mutually suspicious household of two. The first has to do with why Clara's father isn't around (answer: he was a one-night stand, gone in the morning, not even her mother having known his name). The second question is about another missing person, this one, certainly to Clara, even more important. The facts are these: Clara was born in a blizzard, in a car stuck in the ditch that her grandfather, driving Tamar to the hospital, had slid it into; worse, an unexpected twin sister had followed Clara's birth and, waiting for rescue in the wintery cold (the word 'winter' never again to be capitalized by Clara), had died. These are the mysteries (with the additional one of where her never-again-seen grandfather went) that sixth-grader Clara tries to pry the answers to from her taciturn mother'growing frustrated enough by her failure that she turns elsewhere, partly to her own imagination, where all the 'answers' fall gradually and wonderfully into non-place, and partly to the house trailer of 77-year-old immigrant Georg Kominsky, her ostensible purpose being to write an oral history project on him, her more true and gradually emerging purpose being to recreate the grandfather, father, and sister she's lost'with results at once witty, tender, funny, touching, and, by end, tragic in a way that perfectly brings all to a close, if never to an end. Bound for success, or else the world has gone mad.

Library Journal Review

Clara Winter, the 12-year-old narrator of this tender coming-of-age tale, was born when the car in which her grandfather was driving her pregnant mother to the hospital crashed. Her twin sister did not survive, and Clara grows up feeling the loss of her sister like the phantom sensation of a lost limb. As Clara tries to make sense of what happened, she finds an unlikely soul mate and guide in Georg Kominsky, an elderly man she interviews for an oral history assignment. Clara soon uncovers the important pieces of his life story, including the tragedy that they have in common--losing a sibling during a cold, harsh winter. Georg drives her to meet her grandfather for the first time, and she prods him to heal his relationship with Clara's mother. When a terrible accident separates the two friends, Clara realizes that Georg has taught her a way of seeing objects in the world that she will continue using. Full of unforgettable, rich characters, McGhee's second novel will move many readers by its beauty and simplicity and by its implicit hopefulness. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Lisa S. Nussbaum, Euclid P.L., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Now that the old man is gone, I think about him much of the time. I remember the first night I ever saw him. It was March, a year and a half ago. I was watching skiers pole through Nine Mile Woods on the Adirondack Ski Trail, black shapes moving through the trees like shadows or bats flying low. I watched from the churchhouse as my mother, Tamar, and the rest of the choir practiced in the Twin Churches sanctuary.         That was my habit back then. I was an observer and a watcher.         When the choir director lifted her arm for the first bar of the first hymn, I left and walked through the passageway that leads from the sanctuary to the churchhouse. The light that comes through stained-glass windows when the moon rises is a dark light. It makes the colors of stained glass bleed into each other in the shadows. A long time ago one of the Miller boys shot his BB gun through a corner of the stained-glass window in the back, near the kitchen. No one ever fixed it. The custodian cut a tiny piece of clear glass and puttied it into the broken place. I may be the only person in the town of Sterns, New York, who still remembers that there is one stained-glass window in a corner of the Twin Churches churchhouse that is missing a tiny piece of its original whole.         It's gone. It will never return.         That first night, the first time I ever saw the old man, I dragged a folding chair over to that window and stood on it so I could look through the tiny clear piece of patch-glass onto the sloping banks of the Nine Mile Woods. Down below you can see Nine Mile Creek, black and glittery. You would never want to fall into it even though it's only a few feet deep.         I watched the old man in the woods that night. He held fire in his bare hands. That's what it looked like at first, before I realized it was an extralong fireplace match. Tamar and I do not have a fireplace but still, I know what an extralong fireplace match looks like. I watched the old man for what seemed like two hours, as long as the choir took to practice. The moonlight turned him into a shadow amongst the trees, until a small flame lit up a few feet from the ground. The small flame rose in the air and swung from side to side, swinging slower and slower until it stopped. Then I saw that it was a lantern, hung in a tree. An old-time kind of lantern, with candlelight flickering through pierced-tin patterns. I knew about that kind of lantern. It was a pioneer lantern.         You might wonder how I knew about lanterns. You might wonder how a mere girl of eleven would have in-depth knowledge of pierced-tin pioneer lanterns.         Let me tell you that a girl of eleven is capable of far more than is dreamt of in most universes.         To the casual passerby a girl like me is just a girl. But a girl of eleven is more than the sum of her age. Although it is not often stated, she is already living in her twelfth year; she has entered into the future.         The first night I saw him the old man was lighting up the woods for the skiers. First one lantern hung swinging in the tree, then another flame hung a few trees farther down. I stood on my folding chair and peeked through the clear patch-glass on the stained-glass window. Three lanterns lit, and four. Six, seven, eight. Nine, and the old man was done. I watched his shadow move back to the toboggan he had used to drag the lanterns into Nine Mile Woods. He picked up the toboggan rope, he put something under his arm, and he walked through the woods to Nine Mile Trailer Park, pulling the toboggan behi Excerpted from Shadow Baby: A Novel by Alison McGhee All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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