Shift, the hero descends a mountain to the sea. I joined the author, Charlotte Agell, on a similar if easier hike. My mission was to uncover the inspiration for Charlotte’s latest young adult novel. Shift is coming; is the world ready?
Our hike was on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the catastrophic event that motivated Charlotte to write Shift. Her fictional world is both shockingly different and eerily familiar to post 9/11 USA. It’s a book that asks, “what if?” and then dares to answer.
Charlotte is my neighbor, my friend and my writing partner. I was a reader for Shift and for newer projects, and she was a reader for both Moose Crossing and S.A.D. There are some similar themes in our writing through coincidence and cross-fertilization. We are supportive of each other’s work, but we are critical too. Shift has gone through many drafts. It was not an easy book to write, but what a joy it is to read.
Shift was a departure for my spiritual friend, who has written and illustrated 10 cheerful children’s and young adult books. Charlotte traded her rosy lenses for dark ones to imagines a world in which fear and coercion rule. Religious diversity and Darwinian evolution are banned topics of inquiry.
Christianity is bent to the will of the state. Christ’s message of love and tolerance is forgotten. Shift is not a book against religion or God but rather a warning about the dangers of mixing religion and politics.
Our unlikely hero is an ordinary 15-year-old boy, Adrian Havoc (love that name!) Adrian doesn’t want to save the world. He wants to find his missing parents and to impress the lovely Lenora, who grew up in the projects.
Without a plan, the two teenagers rescue an endangered penguin from the zoo and then Adrian’s younger sister from camp. The penguin provides much-needed comic relief.
Our heroes head north across the Deadlands (Massachusetts destroyed by nuclear war) to a somewhat contaminated but still beautifully wild Maine. Rebels are hiding in the woods. The Homestate government is up to something in a mountain, but what?
Charlotte and I climbed Morse Mt. in Phippsburg, Maine. It’s really more of a hill, but the view from the summit is spectacular of peninsulas and islands on the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.
Bates College manages the Morse Mountain Conservation Area and no dogs or bikes are allowed. The hike is 4 miles total in and back, more if you walk on the beach. October is bow-hunting season, and rifle hunting season starts in November so beware. The mosquitoes are out for your blood too. It’s still my favorite hike in the area, just a half hour drive from my home.
Charlotte, being Swedish, did not pack sandwiches for our picnic. She brought beets and tomatoes from her garden, Swedish flat bread and farmer’s market goat cheese. She also shared delicious cornbread baked by the librarian at the Yarmouth public school, where Charlotte teaches writing.
It was a glorious, warm day with clear blue skies, just like it had been on September 11, 2001.
We stepped off the path into the shaded, buggy woods. Teetering pines topped massive boulders. I could imagine a secret door in the moss-covered face.
Beyond the “mountain” were the salt marshes.
I’ve seen a fox and her kits there, a young porcupine (below), a river mink, iridescent ibises, snowy egrets and more. The golden rod and purple asters were blooming, enticing monarch butterflies before they fly south. We savored the last days of summer.
Charlotte and I love this old oak tree. She dances by the marsh like a wood spirit:
After the marsh, the forest thinned to dune grasses.
Morse Mountain’s one-mile Seawall Beach connects at low tide to Small Point and Popham Beaches. It was where I walked with my son and found so many sand dollars. The wet sand stretches for miles, reflecting the blue sky above.
The sea really was silver; the sand was fine sugar.
There were no footprints to follow. Charlotte led the way:
The waves rippled in gently as we walked toward Popham Beach. Other times the sea has been wild and roars like a storm. The tranquility and the emptiness were welcome.
The water was biting cold on our toes, but the sun was warm.
We could see Seguin Island and its lighthouse. Click on the image to enlarge it.
Morse Mountain was behind us:
I imagined I was Adrian by the sea, contemplating the mountain. The dangers in this world are such a contrast to the beauty. Charlotte captures both in Shift.
Shift reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, except that Charlotte’s novel was written for middle and high school readers. Here’s what my children thought of Shift:
My 14-year-old son: Shift is a reasonably quick but interesting read. The central plot is good, and the book never goes too slowly. It is particularly good in the way it describes how everything works in such a bizarre setting. I personally liked the way that I could relate to the Maine setting. It is interesting because it seems strangely similar to the current political climate, though it is a worst case scenario admittedly. Overall it is a good book that explores a surprisingly little considered type of apocalypse.
My 11-year-old daughter: I like the book Shift! The characters are different and unique with strong personalities. The penguin rocks! This sci fi book, I have to admit, made me, an eleven-year-old, a little confused. However, I got the hang of it when the plot developed. I started really liking it. I love how it is based in Maine but also in the future where it rains acid and there are cool inventions. Shift is so well-written that I felt like I was there with Adrian, trekking through futuristic Maine to save the world. I would definitely recommend it to anyone.
Charlotte Agell’s Shift will be released on September 30th in the USA. You can read more about Charlotte’s inspiration in this interview with her publisher, Holt. Brava, Charlotte!
Blog Watch: Jane Green blogged about Ayelet Waldman’s fundraiser for Barack Obama. If you donate $250 or more to Obama’s campaign, Ayelet sends you a mystery bag of 10 books. The signed books were contributed by many authors (including Ayelet and Jane.) It might include a rare first edition Stephen King (Maine author) novel worth over $1,000. Here’s the link to Books for Barack.