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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Ask the Dark by Henry Turner

Release Date: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Clarion Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: Borrowed
Pages: 256
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
Loads of people have asked me 'bout what happened. Tell the truth, I'm tired of getting asked. I want to answer everybody all at once and get it all the hell over with…

Billy Zeets has a story to tell.

About being a vandal and petty thief.

About missing boys and an elusive killer.

And about what happens if a boy who breaks all the rules is the only person who can piece together the truth.

Gripping and powerful, this masterful debut novel comes to vivid life through the unique voice of a hero as unlikely as he is unforgettable.
Billy’s life is in a hard place. His mother has died, his dad can’t work, his sister is pregnant, and they’re about to lose their home to the bank. He also used to be a troublemaker, which makes it hard to shake people’s assumptions about the kind of person into which he’s turning. Try as he might, there’s not a lot he can do to keep his house from foreclosure doing odd jobs around town. When boys start disappearing Billy decides that he can use his restless nights to help find them, even if the police won’t listen to him, and just maybe he can use the reward money to change the fate of his family. 

The book opens with Billy in the hospital, overwhelmed by the acclaim he’s received for his heroics in saving three missing boys despite his insistence that there’s nothing about it that makes him particularly special. Anyone could have done it. And to prove his statement, he’s going to recount the tale of how it all happened, warts and all. By warts I mean some swearing.

This book is not a mystery or a horror story, which is what I was expecting at the outset. The style of storytelling by the main character, who is dictating his tale to a tape recorder, just doesn’t allow the plot to unfold that way. It’s told in a very straight forward manner that didn’t sustain the buildup of tension over the course of the book. There are several suspenseful scenes in the book and an action packed climax, but Billy himself is a very reserved narrator, refusing to describe the details of bodies that are found or what exactly is done to the boys who were missing. In fact, he is decidedly vague on many of details of his life and the town, assuming that his audience is already familiar with the world in which he lives. 

The book never clearly establishes where the story takes place and the first person narrative is written in a dialect that I couldn’t seem to place.  As a result, the poor grammar and sometimes strange spelling took me out of the story rather than fleshing out the setting. In all fairness, this is something that I have an issue with in several stories that use stylized first person narrative, and could easily be more a short coming of me as a reader than the book or author; however, I do think that having a clearer sense of the region would have helped me overcome my issues when being distracted by the style.

As a whole, I think this book is a strong choice for reluctant readers, particularly boys. It’s easy to follow and compelling enough to keep the audience engaged. The universality of an underdog determined to overcome the odds and defy expectations speaks to everyone on some level, especially during our teenage years.

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