Jeffrey Ford is one of the best speculative fiction writers out there and The Shadow Year doesn't disappoint. Ford seemed to be channeling Ray Bradbury but the former surpasses the latter (at least in this novel) as he infuses this coming-of-age story with his own unique elements and handles it deftly through sheer skill with the craft. For example, the book never explicitly mentions the era when the story takes place but readers will immediately realize it through Ford's details and descriptions. This is writing at its best, especially the "showing not telling" part. I'm a fan of Ford so I recognize that many scenes are drawn from his novelette "Botch Town" yet The Shadow Year is not simply an expanded story of the former but a solid, separate narrative of its own and in certain ways superior to the novelette. For example, chapters in the book tend to be short and aptly titled, each giving us a snippet of the protagonist's childhood. This made the reading experience comfortable and compelling, a quality I didn't quite perceive in "Botch Town". Ford also handles the other elements quite adeptly whether it's establishing tone of voice, character, language, and plot. The Shadow Year is easily a book that I can recommend to anyone and showcases one of the best ways speculative fiction (whether they're aware of it or not) is utilized.
1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.