Jennifer Bradbury’s Shift is a young adult novel published by Atheneum in 2008. The story focuses on the coming-of-age of two best friends. Chris and Win are high school students who decide to travel on a bicycle trip from West Virginia to Washington state. They make plans to leave after graduation.
With their bicycle and camping gear, food, and other provisions, Chris and Win begin their 3,000-mile trip that they expect will take two months. They look forward to seeing beautiful places and meeting interesting people. As they make their preparations, Chris learns that Win is packing $20,000 inside of his backpack. This is curious to Chris. Why would anyone want to carry that on a trip like this?
Near the end of their trip somewhere in Montana, Chris’s bike gets a flat tire and Win leaves Chris on the side of the road. Win disappears without explanation. Chris returns home and then goes to college at Georgia Tech. His anger, at first, overshadows any concern he may have about Win’s whereabouts. Then, the FBI arrives to question Chris.
The author structured the chapters of the novel to include flashbacks to details of their trip plans and then forward to the investigation into Win’s disappearance. Part of the investigation unveils Win’s lies about a fictitious uncle living in Seattle. Win’s powerful and wealthy parents become central to the story as the plot unfolds and Chris eventually determines where Win is hiding. Readers learn that Win struggles to offset the control of his father ad seeks to make a life on his own terms.
The two sets of parents provide further insight into these two teenagers. Win’s father is accustomed to getting whatever he wants because of his wealth, influence, and power. As a parent, he operates at two extremes of being either detached or overbearing. Chris’s family is hard-working and blue-collar. Their approach to life is more down-to-earth and balanced.
Bradbury’s story combines suspense, friendship, mystery, and adventure as the two young men bridge their lives into the next phase. Chris and Win merge their inherent sense of idealism with the impending sense of responsibility. Critics admire Bradbury’s well-paced plot and deft character development.