Yesterday's Shadow

Fiction - Literary
248 Pages
Reviewed on 02/26/2024
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite

Yesterday’s Shadow by P.J. Murphy is a thoughtful and compelling coming-of-age story that will take many readers back to those awkward teenage years when peer pressure, bullies, introspection, and self-doubt are just part of everyday existence. Nick is a sixteen-year-old living in Cambridge, England, coming to terms with the breakup of his nuclear family. His abusive father was finally arrested for the physical abuse of Nick’s mother which seemed to have gone on for as long as Nick could remember. Their subsequent divorce and Nick’s solitude lead him to question life and its twists and turns earlier than many other young people. An above-average student, Nick glides through high school generally anonymous and unnoticed except by his small group of fellow nerdy friends. Interested in girls but unable to understand the social graces of talking to them or asking them out, he leads a fairly solitary life. One cold, winter night whilst walking home from the pool, he has a chance encounter with a seedy, unwashed, and homeless tramp, Peter, who is he feels compelled to help, giving the derelict some food. Thus begins the strangest of relationships as Peter imparts his faith, the gospel, and his commitment to surrendering his entire life to follow God to young Nick.

Yesterday’s Shadow works wonderfully well on several levels. It offers a warm, satisfying nostalgia for a simpler time when we were younger and the world seemed to be just there for us waiting to explore and make it our own. Readers will, like I did, identify so perfectly with many of the dilemmas and conundrums faced by the young teenager. Who doesn’t remember their fumbling attempts to know whether a girl was interested in them or not and then the even clumsier efforts to get to know her and to ask her out? Author P.J. Murphy writes with a humorous simplicity that perfectly conveys the struggles Nick faces in coming to terms with what is happening to him. The author gives us many situations that we have all encountered such as the first untimely death of someone we know; our first sexual awakening and first love; the fear of standing up for a friend in the face of bullying; and the understanding that not all relationships are perfect and forever. The highlight of the story, though, is undoubtedly Nick’s relationship with Peter. Peter’s simple faith and his repudiation of all things earthly, including possessions of any kind, is a challenge to Nick’s understanding of life and its purpose. Yet, in Peter, he finally finds someone he can confide in and share his innermost fears and desires. That Nick can find hope, solace, and direction from an old homeless stranger rather than his parents or friends is perhaps ironic and yet satisfying. I particularly appreciated Nick’s concerns about his father’s violent temper and whether some of that had been passed down through the genes and that he was predisposed to rage. This is a well-written, gentle, sweet, story that I enjoyed and can highly recommend.

P.J. Murphy

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