Shade Me (Nikki Kill #1) – Jennifer Brown

Shade Me (Nikki Kill #1) – Jennifer BrownTitle: Shade Me (Nikki Kill #1) by Jennifer Brown
Publishing Info: January 19, 2016 by HarperCollins
Source: Edelweiss
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
Find it on the web: Buy from Amazon // GoodreadsDate Completed: January 7, 2016

Nikki Kill does not see the world like everyone else. In her eyes, happiness is pink, sadness is a mixture of brown and green, and lies are gray. Thanks to a rare phenomenon called synesthesia, Nikki’s senses overlap, in a way that both comforts and overwhelms her.
Always an outsider, just one ‘D’ shy of flunking out, Nikki’s life is on the fast track to nowhere until the night a mysterious call lights her phone up bright orange—the color of emergencies. It’s the local hospital. They need Nikki to identify a Jane Doe who is barely hanging on to life after a horrible attack.
The victim is Peyton Hollis, a popular girl from Nikki’s school who Nikki hardly knows. One thing is clear: Someone wants Peyton dead. But why? And why was Nikki’s cell the only number in Peyton’s phone?
As she tries to decipher the strange kaleidoscope of clues, Nikki finds herself thrust into the dark, glittering world of the ultra-rich Hollis family, and drawn towards Peyton’s handsome, never-do-well older brother Dru. While Nikki’s colors seem to help her unravel the puzzle, what she can’t see is that she may be falling into a trap. The only truth she can be sure of is that death is a deep, pulsing crimson.
Shade Me is award-winning author Jennifer Brown’s first book in a thrilling suspense series about Nikki Kill.


** Warning! There are what some may consider spoilers for the book when discussing Nikki’s synesthesia. If you’re spoiler-sensitive, you may not want to read the review in full. ** 

I was dying to read SHADE ME when I first heard about it and I LOVE that cover! I loved the concept of synesthesia and how it might tie into the mystery! For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book or condition, main character Nikki has synesthesia which means her brain essentially connects more than one sense — stimulation of a specific sense triggers a reaction to another sense. I thought it would be incredibly neat to read about and I always love learning more about cognitive functions, how synesthesia worked, and maybe also why.

Unfortunately for me, the whole integration of synesthesia in the book just didn’t work for me at all. I’ve actually learned about it before which was what drew me to the book and so I didn’t feel like the science of including this phenomenon in the book really came together at all. Grapheme-color synesthesia is the type that Nikki experiences (there are many different combinations of senses) so in her case, she associates colors with letters, numbers, and words. Each letter and number has its own distinct color as she’s reading and that can extend to words as well. Where the book totally lost me was when Nikki’s synesthesia started extending beyond the means of science and stretching the concept a bit too far. She also experiences and emotional connection where she sees emotions as a color as well.

While I’m sure there are emotional associations, where the book started to lose me was where Nikki started latching onto emotions intuitively. Again, I’m no scientist and this is just my speculation but some of the concepts went a BIT too far with those emotional connections for me to fully grasp them. I can see being in someone’s presence and picking up on their emotions, Nikki being able to see her own emotions in color, or projecting her reactions to someone else and projecting that color onto them but she ended up connecting emotions to someone’s writing instead of an actual person. How would she be able to tell what someone was feeling when they wrote something? She’s not a psychic. Seeing this book scientifically, she shouldn’t be able to pick up on a emotional connection from a piece of paper. And if she pulled an emotion from a photograph, wouldn’t that be her interpretation of what emotion that person could be feeling and not necessarily the actual thing? That whole concept just really didn’t work for me.

Then there was the idea that — SPOILER ALERT HERE — Nikki could pick up messages based on someone else’s synesthesia. Without giving away too much, in situation set up in the book, it was possible to her to find someone else with experiencing the same phenomenon… BUT even if they did experience the exact same form of synesthesia, who’s to say they even see the same colors? Synesthetes may have some overlap or common colors that they might see for a certain letter or number but they definitely don’t all experience the same colors for the same letters/numbers/words. The concept that Nikki was able to do all of this detective work based on her condition/ability (depending on how you look at it) could have worked but the way that it played out just didn’t make sense to me. The only way it could have worked would be if she already knew what colors someone else saw because most likely they wouldn’t be seeing the exact same colors.

Aside from the scientific rant, I just really didn’t care for the characters or how the book played out either. Several times over the course of the book, I really felt like this would have been a much better adult book. I am all for darker YA books and not having to sugar coat things just because it’s a younger character or a younger audience but it was a combination of too many things that would have been much more fitting if Nikki were in her twenties or older. The way she goes about her detective work would have made much more sense in an adult setting, especially posing as a prostitute (what!?), an attraction quickly leading to sex, and a weird sexual tension with a detective in his 30s (even though this wasn’t specifically mentioned as attraction, the two definitely had a weird thing going on). The entire concept of this crazy, messed-up family that was the Hollis situation felt more mature than a YA book. Of course, these situations really don’t discriminate by age but in the real world BUT it definitely felt a bit heavy for a young adult book. I kept feeling like it would have flowed much better had the main characters been older and I wouldn’t have been weirded out by so many situations which is saying a lot because these things usually don’t even bother me. I think it was the combination of too many things that threw up a red flag that I just wasn’t buying.

I also just really didn’t connect to the characters much at all. We’re so wrapped up in Nikki’s sense and emotions and yet she fell really flat for me. I think part of that was because she was so detached in so many ways, which I completely understand,  yet it’s hard for me to empathize with characters who tend to try to remove themselves from emotional situations. I also really didn’t like any of the secondary characters and so many of them felt incredibly stereotypical. They didn’t seem to have a lot of depth and one of the characters who the book explored more wasn’t as mysterious for me as I had hoped.

Unfortunately, I was utterly disappointed with SHADE ME. I wanted to see how the book end so I stuck it out but it was kind of hard for me to read and get into. It was a book I was really excited for since there were so many concepts I was anxious to read about but I found too many things that really made me question things. I suppose you may enjoy it more if you’re not as into the science of synesthesia like I am or are willing to let the book take you where it wants, but even still, the characters and the plot didn’t work for me either.


“The View from Goodreads” is a featured section in my reviews that I decided to incorporate! I tend to update my Goodreads status a LOT when I read — reactions, feelings, notes — so I thought it would be fun to share the sort of “reading process”! All status updates are spoiler-free (no specific plot points will be revealed) but will contain reactions to certain pages and/or characters!

shade me gr updates


Nikki // Character Obsessions: Colors, mystery, individualism. 
Nikki was a hard character for me. She felt very closed off in an emotional sense that I just really couldn’t connect to her. Or I guess I should say that her emotions just felt very flat. The reader gets to experience so much from her POV which should really be enhanced by the fact that we can also associate colors with her emotions to bring another level into the book and yet I just didn’t connect. She also makes incredibly bad decisions that I just couldn’t get on board with. It was a bit too much.


Kept Me Hooked On: Cognitive phenomena. I really wanted to pick up this book because of the incorporation of synesthesia! Some of it was incredibly interesting to see but other times it felt like the concept was stretched beyond its scientific means.
Left Me Wanting More: Reality. Some situations in this book were incredibly grandiose and overdone. I’ve already stated my issues with the reality of how Nikki’s synesthesia might work. And there are quite a few times that I questioned how she was doing her detective work and even WHY she was doing it.

Addiction Rating
Skip it

Personally, this is one that I wouldn’t recommend. I can see people picking up on these concepts in different ways but the book was just overdone in so many ways that I had a hard time reading it. Again, if it were an adult book, I think I might have accepted some situations a bit better



(Click the cover to see my review!)


Hi, I'm Brittany!
Hi, I'm Brittany!

I'm an avid reader, candle-maker, and audiobook lover! Here you'll find book reviews, fun blog posts, and my other loves of photography & craft beer!

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3 thoughts on “Shade Me (Nikki Kill #1) – Jennifer Brown

  1. Audrey Greathouse

    Oh boy. I was thrilled by the first two lines of the book’s description and then I immediately started to see how the science and integration was crumbling. Know as much as I do about synesthesia (which really isn’t that much…) I don’t think I would be able to enjoy this loose interpretation of how the condition affects people.

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