Shiver the Whole Night Through is the first Young Adult (YA) novel by Darragh McManus, best known as a crime writer. McManus’s book is ambitious in the themes, as it goes into consequences of bullying and even touches superficially on the topic of teenaged suicide. It does so through a noir-supernatural-horror-romance combination.
Aidan Flood is a teenager on the verge of committing suicide. He has good reasons to be depressed, but a traumatic experience makes him delay his attempt and eventually changes his mind about ending his life. After a local beauty, Sláine, is found dead, Aidan tries to confirm the causes of her death. Something tells him she did not commit suicide as the Guards think; she doesn’t strike him as the type. In his search for the truth, he receives help from Sláine who comes from the other side, falls for her -as this new non-corporeal being- and discovers the secret history of his hometown and its spooky forest, Shook Woods.
McManus mentions in the foreword that there is a soundtrack to the book, with melancholic and even spooky songs to help to set the eerie tone for those reading. As in this foreword, there are several moments where I see the writer not letting the story explain itself. There are certain occasions, in Aidan's transformation as a character -suggested by his actions and thoughts- that McManus has a tendency to over explain. The way some scenes are picked apart is distracting, especially since such explanations may not be needed by a sharp reader.
Shiver the Whole Night Through, whose title is taken from a Nirvana song, does set a depressing and later a scary tone, which is diluted a few chapters in. At this point, romance and the inherent Irish humour lighten the events, soften the tone and even brighten up the story. Aidan finds in Sláine that someone he thinks he can trust and finds himself as the protagonist of quite a fantastical story (with supernatural, horror and noir elements) from which he doesn't want to escape.
The narration is done through Aidan, his thoughts and what he sees. It is a fact the reader is able to put two and two together, well before the character admits something to himself. But this doesn't steal any credibility to the character, who becomes more mature and confident gradually, and it’s consistently well written.
The action lacks pace. The story takes a few days to get going -the novel is set in a period of several months- and the plot seems to drag around a couple of times until we confront the final conflict and resolution. It explores the changes in Aidan's life, how he recovers his self-esteem and becomes a hero in the traditional sense (with a little help from his friends).
You can appreciate McManus decision of setting the story in Ireland and do it with all its consequences. He uses Irish names, expressions and even references to some stereotypes about Irish people, like not doing "emotional honesty” with members of your family. This is a brave choice, since a vague location may help a YA novel, at least from the distribution and selling point of view.
Shiver the Whole Night Through is an ambitious book. It succeeds to define its characters. Although the mixture of genres works out fine with the tone of the story, in some cases it operates as a distraction for the reader to solve this supernatural puzzle.