Friday, October 24, 2014

Teen/YA Review: The Other Side of Dark

When I started The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith as one of my creepy October reads, I expected a spooky ghost story, but this unique novel is so much more, with a strong historical backdrop.

Her classmates think she’s gone crazy since her mother’s death, but the truth is that Katie sees – and talks to – ghosts.  She’s sees them everywhere and feels compelled to draw their deaths, which are often violent and gruesome. There are positives, though, like getting to talk to her father, who died when Katie was a young girl. One ghost in particular grabs Katie’s attention: George, a mentally challenged boy who hangs out in the park near the ruins of the old Perkins mansion, Pinebank. Katie’s mom worked with Down Syndrome kids, so seeing and talking to George brings back memories of her mom.

Katie’s classmate, Law, has had a crush on her since 7th grade, though his father would never let him date a white girl from the poor side of town. Law’s mom is white, and his dad is black, and his dad is world-renowned as a black historian who is very outspoken on the topic of reparations for slavery. He expects Law to follow in his footsteps, but Law is far more interested in architecture, his mother’s field, and landscape architecture, especially historical architecture and restoration.

When Katie and Law begin getting to know each other, Law convinces Katie to share her secret with him…and he believes her. Together, they begin to uncover the mysteries behind Pinebank, which Law’s mother is working to save and Law’s dad wants torn down since its original owner made his money in the slave trade. Ghost George tells Katie he can’t leave because he is guarding a treasure, and that only adds to the intrigue. As Katie and Law dig deeper, they discover some startling secrets about the Perkins’ family and Pinebank, but the more they learn, the more dangerous their quest becomes.

The supernatural side of this novel is creepy, as a good ghost story should be, but I was even more fascinated by the historical side. I was surprised to find out in the acknowledgements at the end of the novel that Thomas Handasyd Perkins (the original owner) and Pinebank were all real, and the book is a combination of fiction and real-life facts. That made it all the more interesting.

I enjoyed Katie and Law’s story…and their discovery of the truth behind the Perkins’ story, too. This novel pulls together such disparate threads – real-life history and supernatural ghosts – but it’s done in a way that feels very real and is completely engrossing. I was captivated from the first page to the last.

309 pages, Atheneum


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