Lily Meade’s debut novel was highly anticipated novel about sisters, missing girls, and some sort of curse. The perfect summer read and a perfect discussion book for us!
Publisher’s Summary: Sutton going missing is the worst thing to happen to Casey, to their family. She’s trying to help find her sister, but Casey is furious. And she can’t tell anyone about their argument before Sutton disappeared. Everyone paints a picture of Sutton’s perfection: the popular cheerleader with an entourage of friends, a doting boyfriend, and a limitless future. But Sutton manipulated everyone around her, even stole an heirloom bracelet from Casey. People don’t look for missing Black girls–or half-Black girls–without believing there is an angel to be saved.
When Sutton reappears, Casey knows she should be relieved. Except Sutton isn’t the same. She remembers nothing about while she was gone—or anything from her old life, including how she made Casey miserable. There’s something unsettling about the way she wants to spend time with Casey, the way she hums and watches her goldfish swim for hours.
What happened to Sutton? The more Casey starts uncovering her sister’s secrets, the more questions she has. Did she really know her sister? Why is no one talking about the other girls who have gone missing in their area? And what will it take to uncover the truth?
Warning! Spoilers ahead!
What did you think of the book overall?
K. Imani: I’m really not trying to spoil anything but when I reached the end of the novel I was confused because it just…ended. I was like “where is the rest of it?” I was thrown because I was really enjoying the novel, the relationships between Casey and Sutton, the mystery, etc and wasn’t ready to leave their world. I felt that there were so many layers to this story, so much more that could be explored, that this could have been a very powerful novel.
Crystal: I too was left shaking my head a bit at the end. It resolved all of a sudden, but we didn’t get to see a lot of the relationship development, healing, or growth that I was hoping for after the trauma. There was a lot more we could have seen and it left me wondering if it was meant to have a sequel. Overall though, I enjoyed it and really appreciated the relationships.
Audrey: I liked it quite a bit! It’s rather difficult to talk about the ending without giving major spoilers, so what I’ll say is that I calibrated my genre expectations away from the true crime/mystery end of the genre spectrum fairly early on in the novel. (In other words, I started suspecting we’d have an open, ambiguous, or even downer ending.) With that framework in mind, I feel like the ending worked for the genres in play, and while I might have enjoyed a longer denouement, it wasn’t necessary. THE SHADOW SISTER was the kind of book that needed to end on a striking set piece after all the previous build up, and I think it was a solid way to finish.
Jessica: Not to echo everyone, but I totally feel that and agree with you all! The story was so compelling that it definitely left me wanting more at the end. At the same time, I can completely see what Audrey is saying about calibrating genre expectations and how the build-up led necessarily to that particular ending. It certainly made me excited to read more from Meade!
I know we all have sisters and the overarching theme of this novel was Casey’s and Sutton’s relationship. In what way or ways did the portrayal of their relationship sit with you?
K. Imani: My sister and I are close in age much like Casey and Sutton and it reminded me of our teenage years where we did most of our fighting. As friendships became more important we drifted a bit and that was the source of our tension and I saw much of that reflected in Casey and Sutton’s relationship. I feel it was further added by the way their mother showed her preference for Sutton because she was lighter than Casey (but that is a whole other conversation). For me though, despite their antagonizing relationship, there was still love there. Casey was very gentle with her strange sister and worried about her recovery. I like that Meade included some chapters from Sutton’s POV because it gave us a more complete version of their relationship and showed that there was a chance that if they just communicated better they could become close again.
Crystal: Family relationships can be incredibly complex in spite of sharing genes, surroundings, events, and so much. It has always boggled my mind a bit how even in the same home, my sister and I have such different world views and ways of interacting with others. With Casey and Sutton we see this play out. Sometimes it takes distance to see someone more clearly. Here they have had a trauma, but also some space and time to give them some perspective. Casey definitely believes that she knows Sutton, but it is fascinating to watch Casey begin to understand her sister in a different way. I appreciated this, but especially at the end I wished for a little more from Sutton’s perspective.
Audrey: One of the things that struck me was how quickly and angrily I was on Casey’s side at the start of the novel—and then how that anger slowly drained away as we got more Sutton POV chapters and went further back into the past to see what was happening on the other side of their sisterly relationship and how it had changed. It was—eerie, unnerving, how Sutton returned basically a stranger, and how much Casey didn’t know how to deal with that. Watching their new relationship form in the shadow of their previous animosity was really interesting to me.
Jessica: Sutton’s POV chapters were so important! It was honestly incredible to feel my own perception of the situation shift as I kept reading and the story unfolded. I’m quite close with my sister and we haven’t ever had an antagonistic relationship, so this was actually quite a change of pace for me. But the complex ties of family certainly resonated with me – and agree – there was love there.
Casey is sometimes very unlikeable and is an unreliable narrator. How did her version of events between her and Sutton affect your reading?
K. Imani: Having Casey be both at times unlikeable and also unreliable is what drew me to her. Her feelings towards her sister greatly clouded her reaction to when her sister returned and why she was so suspicious in the first place. Her parents and others didn’t see it, but this version of Sutton that Casey had in her head is what drove the story forward. The conflict that Casey carried by being both moved and repulsed by her sister really showed the complexities of their relationship and ultimately led to the truth being revealed.
Crystal: Perhaps this speaks to the often rocky childhood relationship I had with my younger sister, but I found Casey to be believable and related with her quite a bit. My sister and I were very antagonistic in our younger years and only as adults began to see each other without so much blocking our vision of each other. I was surprised to see the word unlikeable in the question so maybe I connected to her a little too much.
Audrey: With Casey as the narrator, it was really easy to be on her side because she had such a flat view of Sutton at the start. On a meta level, I kept circling back to the idea that Casey only started to question her own perception of her sister once Sutton was—well, very obviously not herself anymore from everyone’s POV, including hers. Her own uncertainty about what she knew about Sutton was complicated by the fact that she had seen other sides to Sutton that no one else had or would admit to (the fighting, the cruelty). And even though I loved the Sutton POV chapters for how they revealed things, I’m not sure that Sutton was any more of a reliable narrator than Casey when it came to their relationship. I really liked that ambiguity and uncertainty in the story—it drove a lot of tension and suspenseful moments.
Jessica: I loved the nuance and complexity layered into the characterization of the sisters! I have a soft spot for characters who are unreliable narrators and imperfect people (aren’t we all?). It was so fascinating to see how Casey and Sutton evolved throughout the story. And I love drilling in on the whole idea of, well, the idea of someone. That the perception of who someone is that we build up in our head may not be accurate. So relevant and haunting!
The theme of family is strong in this novel, especially with Casey’s father being a historian and researching their family’s history. What part of Casey’s family story stuck with you the most?
K. Imani: I absolutely loved how Casey’s grandmother, Ma Remy, went about getting her family artifacts from the museum. I was so angry for her that the museum initially denied access to her own family documents that she had to go to extremes to getting it back. The way she snuck in to the reenactment and no one noticed…I laughed. Typical of people who say they mean well, but are just as racist. I thought her plan was genius and the fact that Casey’s father was embarrassed by it unnerved me. I got a sense of the force of the woman that Casey’s grandmother was from that one story alone and loved her for it.
Crystal: That sense of history and being connected through the years stuck with me. And yes, I loved Ma Remy and how she reclaimed their property. Also, she was so great at managing to make both Sutton and Casey feel special. They both had a strong bond with her that lasted beyond life. Her deep love for family and connection is passed down through the generations. It was also a hoot to see that her diary included a bit about her love life.
Jessica: I loved Casey’s grandmother! She really made such an impactful impression from that one story. Not to jump on board with you all, but she really stuck with me. Co-sign!
Audrey: Agreed, with all of you, plus I liked how the family history theme connected to the climax of the story and made that particular ending possible. Being able to learn about and claim your family history had power, and it was a delight to watch how that played out. It also gave hope to the idea that Casey and Sutton could reconcile someday, which was important to me as a reader.
Casey and Sutton’s mom was adamant about creating a perfect vision of Sutton so the police and the community would look for her because she is biracial. The story also contrasts this with mentioning the other two missing Black Girls.
K. Imani: I’m so glad this theme was prevalent in the story. Initially I was irritated that Casey and Sutton’s mom felt like they had to pretend Sutton was the perfect child, but I appreciated that the story focused on this theme because when Black girls go missing, it seems that society will only help out those whom they deem “perfect”. Showing the traumatic toll this takes on a family and highlighting how police treat missing Black girls really showed the injustice in our society.
Crystal: This was an important point that I too am glad was in the story. It shouldn’t be an angle that families need to focus on when they are trying to find their loved one, but that’s still where we are and the author acknowledges it openly.
Jessica: So glad you bring this up. Seeing the pain and the injustice in the book, and what Casey and Sutton’s mom felt like she had to do, really hit home. And as Crystal points out, this has been an ongoing issue in current events – and of course, past events. It’s so important that there are books like The Shadow Sister to highlight this terrible discrepancy to readers who might not be aware of it, and to acknowledge readers who are.
Audrey: Honestly, that plot line hurt, but I’m glad it was tackled upfront. The scene where Casey tried to look up information online about the other missing girls was heartbreaking, especially how she had to keep refining her search terms and still found barely anything. I couldn’t help but think at the end that so many other Black girls could have gone missing if Sutton hadn’t been taken when she did—she was lucky her family was in such a position that they could get that media coverage. But even after the media coverage for Sutton, that didn’t change the narrative for any of the other missing girls, which was awful to see.
Stories about sibling relationships (found siblings count!) are major themes in many YA novels. What are some of your favorite books and what book about siblings are you looking forward to?
K. Imani: I just finished reading My Week with Him by Joya Goffney which has a sweet sibling relationship (look for my review next week!). Brandy Colbert also writes siblings really well and I’m so looking forward to reading her newest book, The Blackwoods, which comes out in October.
Crystal: Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley, So Many Beginnings: A Little Women Remix by Bethany C. Morrow and Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi are some of the more recent books I’ve read that feature sister relationships. I think the sibling book I’m most looking forward to is Her Radiant Curse by Elizabeth Lim.
Jessica: Everyone Wants to Know by Kelly Loy Gilbert is a book centered around a family that I read recently and loved! I need to read My Week with Him and Her Radiant Curse – so those are on my TBR.
Audrey: Good question! I loved the sisters in She is a Haunting by Trang Thanh Tran and the sworn sisters in Strike the Zither by Joan He.
That’s our discussion. Have you read The Shadow Sister yet? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.