Review: The Colour of Shadows by Phyllida Shrimpton

Review: The Colour of Shadows by Phyllida Shrimpton

When Saffron discovers a briefcase in the attic of her family home, she discovers that her father has lied to her. Ten years ago, he told her that her mother was dead, but she’s alive and out there somewhere and Saffron is determined to find her.

Saffron runs away from home, unwilling to be around her father or his new wife Melanie for a moment longer. But when her oldest friend Tom refuses to let her stay with him, telling her instead to just go home, Saffron ends up sleeping rough and discovering there’s a lot more to life than designer labels and having a walk-in wardrobe.

I wasn’t a fan of Phyllida Shrimpton’s first novel, Sunflowers in February, but I decided to give The Colour of Shadows a chance. There aren’t many young adult novels that feature the characters running away from home or sleeping on the streets, but it’s a scarily common problem – over 100,000 young people asked for help regarding homelessness last year, according to Centrepoint.

However, it feels like Phyllida Shrimpton knew that she wanted to talk about homelessness and abandonment and had to string together a very unstable plot to allow her to explore the issues. It just doesn’t hold up under questioning.

If I found a briefcase in the attic filled with cards to my supposedly dead mother, I would assume that my father had kept them for sentimental reasons. I wouldn’t assume that it meant that she was actually alive.

Then again, if I was Saffron’s dad I would have disposed of the briefcase when I moved into a larger home with my new wife, rather than keeping it and risking one of my children discovering it…

Another aspect that doesn’t compute is Saffron’s age. Throughout the first few chapters I believed Saffron was supposed to be 13 or 14, but the way she was stomping around the house and refusing to let anyone speak screamed pre-teen behaviour. Then it was revealed that Saffron is actually meant to be 17. I was baffled. Some of her childish, spoilt behaviour can be explained away by her upper middle class background, but it makes the narrative jarring. I kept thinking I was reading a middle-grade book rather than a YA with a protagonist in her late teens.

Shrimpton gets points for discussing homelessness so cleverly, tearing down preconceptions regarding homeless people that I’m sure a lot of readers will unconsciously believe. She also explores the difficulties of being a young carer, although I hope she goes into this topic in more detail in a future release, as I can only think of one other YA novel focused upon the subject (Tender by Eve Ainsworth).

But although The Colour of Shadows is filled with important topics, I just can’t rate this novel higher than two stars. The plot is just far too transparent, and I feel as though the story needed to be stronger to make this book a success.