Published by Simon and Schuster Australia on June 19, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult
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The House on the Hill has been abandoned for as long as James can remember. So when he discovers Webster, a drifter, hiding there he's instantly curious about the man and what he's running from.
Afflicted by a dark curse, Webster is no longer the person he used to be. But there's said to be a cure and it might just be that by helping Webster, James will find some solace of his own. Together they embark on a journey, not knowing that what they are about to discover will shape them both in ways they never imagined.
I’m not actually sure what I just read.
The Dark Inside starts off with James who is abused by his stepfather, runs away from home after finding a new friend – old man Webster who is suffering from PTSD from war. I liked their fast friendship, and the idea of two damaged souls finding a friend in one another, and was curious where their adventures would take us. It’s a book filled with adventures, as the duo stumble upon a farm, meet an old man and then get captured by an old woman and her son.
“I’ve been done wrong,” said Webster. “Someone’s done me a great wrong. And now I’m dark inside because of it. I’m something else. Broken apart then put back together.”
This is where it takes quite an unexpected paranormal turn, when curses and potions and creatures of the night are featured. It also turns quite dark, with several deaths and Webster wanting to be redeemed for his darker ‘curse’. The writing never says it outright, but we’re lead to believe that Webster has the curse of the werewolf/some other paranormal creature, and the witch and apprentice/old woman and the son are trying to rid him of it. What really threw me off though, was the writing stayed in quite a realistic and believable setting. Is it meant to be magical realism? This is why mixing contemporary and paranormal just doesn’t work for me.
Even the actions of the old woman or supposed witch was quite confusing, she is presented as an enemy at the start but comes to care for James later on. We’re lead to believe she only wants to help rid Webster of his curse, whereas in reality she’s actually holding James hostage and looking to commit murder. It’s her presence in the novel that really muddied the waters, with my brain unable to process whether her character was real or imagined as a result of James and Webster’s trauma.
James took Webster’s shaking hands in his and held them until they were steady. Only then did they walk on down the path.
I feel there’s a fair amount of symbolism which the novel alludes to, like James and Webster encountering dark and difficult situations they must ‘escape’ from in order to accept the realities of their situation. James, struggling against the unfairness of his stepfather’s abuse, evolves into a character who comes to forgive and care for Webster. And Webster, struggling against the trauma of war, helps James cope. Their unlikely friendship is beautiful and made them grow into characters who were less haunted, out of their love for each other. The ending was quite powerful, clearly outlining the impact of their journey with one another.
The writing in The Dark Inside was reminiscent of a fairy tale, kind of dream-like and taking us through one adventure to the next. I’m actually surprised that the author could skirt the line between contemporary and paranormal so well, making us question whether it was all real in the first place.
“There isn’t just one world…There’s billions…Everyone’s standing on their own world, spinning around each other, trying not to collide.”
I came into The Dark Inside not knowing anything about it, becoming really drawn into it from it’s short chapters and fast friendship between characters, and then being confused by its contents. Regardless of whether some aspects in the novel were real or intended, I’ve come to appreciate the underlying message of forgiveness and redemption, spawning from two unlikely friends. A beautiful novel of magical realism, which you’d particularly enjoy if you like fairy tales and don’t mind the dream-like contemporary/paranormal mashup.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.