Pica heard her mother sigh heavily again. Then, she heard her parents stand to stretch, and was suddenly worried that they would discover her on their return to the den site. She began to back away, retracing her steps as quickly as possible until she got closer to her siblings. Then she lay down, pretending to be sleepy and relaxed. But beneath her calm exterior, her body hummed with thoughts and questions. Who had Jagger killed? Why would her parents not tell the pups about the Forest Pack? She vowed to try to find out more.
Street Shadows dives into the animal night life of the city. It is told from the perspective of two young coyotes, Pica and Scruff. Pica is born into a loving family that has a den on the hillside of a quiet golf course. Scruff was also born to a loving family in the forest, but he was orphaned shortly after he was born until he was adopted by Jagger, a tough, lone coyote who had claimed the forest site as his own.
Pica is a very curious coyote, and she often wonders about the world outside her sheltered den while her siblings readily accept everything their parents tell them. She got an eye infection early in life that left her blind in one eye, forcing her to learn how to hunt differently. Scruff only knows the world to be a tough place. Jagger does take care of him and teaches him to hunt, but, if Scruff makes mistakes, he is punished and is sometimes left alone for days.
Pica meets Scruff one day while playing with a golf ball near the forest territory. They immediately get along well, but, when Pica’s family sees Scruff, they tell her to never play with other coyotes. Jagger tells Scruff that Pica’s parents are the ones who killed his family. Scruff is angry at this, and Jagger promises Scruff to help him get his revenge. As the pups grow bigger, they are both taught how to survive in different ways. Everything changes when construction begins in the forest. Huge machines destroy Jagger and Scruff’s home, forcing them to flee into human territory. Jagger convinces Scruff to kill the other coyote family for revenge and claim the hillside as their own. Scruff reluctantly agrees but wants to talk with them first.
While her family is sleeping, Pica wanders over to the construction site. She meets Scruff and is surprised by his hatred of her. She runs back to her den to tell her family about the construction but gets in trouble. She is left frustrated that her family won’t listen to her and feels that they are hiding something from her about the truth of Scruff and Jagger. Pica is left behind while her family hunts. She decides to practice hunting by herself but is attacked by Jagger. Luckily, her siblings help fight Jagger off, but Pica’s leg is badly wounded. Her parents fear Jagger’s aggression, and her father, Lamar, decides to go after him. When Jagger returns to Scruff, he pretends to be more hurt than he really is and convinces Scruff to help him attack the hillside pack. Again, Scruff reluctantly agrees and follows Jagger deeper into the woods. Suddenly, Jagger attacks Scruff and disappears. When Lamar finds Scruff hurt, he is confused. Suddenly Jagger reappears and pushes Lamar into a hole, killing him. Scruff is shocked and realizes he can no longer trust Jagger.
When Lamar does not return, Gree, Pica’s mother, fears the worst. Scruff shows up after leaving Jagger and tells Gree and the pups about Lamar and Jagger’s plans to take over their home. Gree is angry at Scruff for helping Jagger kill Lamar but decides to take the pups to find a new place to live. Pica is still badly injured and is unable to keep up with her family. Eventually Gree has no choice but to leave Pica under a bush until she can come back for her. However, Pica is found by some humans and is soon taken away by Alyssa, a wildlife biologist. Alyssa takes Pica to a rehab centre and helps her recover.
Meanwhile, Scruff decides not to go back to Jagger. Instead, he wanders the city to look for his own territory. During his travels, he is sprayed by a skunk, chased by dogs, and is unable to sleep well or eat very much. He then comes across the ocean for the first time and meets Mala, an older coyote, who helps him by telling him how to get home. Mala is the first coyote who has been kind to him, and Scruff is taken aback. After almost drowning to get away from another pack of coyotes, Scruff slowly makes his way back to the golf course.
It takes Pica a few months to recover, and, when she is released, it is winter. She is taken to the park where Alyssa found her. Pica hopes that her family will be there, but they are not. With no other choice, Pica decides to make her way back to her hillside home to try to find her family, but she is also aware that Jagger could still be there. When she makes it back to the den site, it is completely demolished just as the forest was. Jagger is also there, and Pica is angry at him for separating her family and ruining her home. Just as Jagger is about to attack her, Scruff knocks into Jagger to protect Pica. He demands from Jagger to know the truth about his parents, but Jagger only laughs at the pups, telling them they know nothing before he walks away. Pica and Scruff are unsettled by this, and, although Pica doesn’t fully trust Scruff yet, she tells him her story. Scruff tells Pica what happened to him and that, on his way back to the hillside, he smelled her family. Pica gets excited, and Scruff promises to help her find her family.
Throughout the book, it is clear that Gilchrist is very knowledgeable about the habits and characteristics of coyotes. She recognizes that they are smart, wild animals, but she has humanized her characters enough for readers of all ages to relate to them in some way. The story is fast paced and keeps readers engaged by the suspense of what really happened to Scruff’s family and his complicated relationship with Jagger. Although written from two different viewpoints, survival and family are important themes. Pica and Scruff have to work to overcome a feud between their packs, but both coyotes are taught how to survive from a young age and to quietly coexist with humans and other coyotes. The destruction of both their homes makes Pica and Scruff realize the importance of working together, much like Pica’s family taught her. Fans of Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan will greatly enjoy this book, as will all animal lovers.
Julia Pitre is a children’s librarian at London Public Library in London, Ontario.