Book Review: The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith

Holly Black called The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith “chilling and lush” and I completely agree with her. It’s a lovely combination of contemporary YA, paranormal thriller and historical fiction — and though it may sound like an odd combination, Smith combines them masterfully.

Here’s what the book is all about:

Since losing both of her parents, fifteen-year-old Katie can see and talk to ghosts, which makes her a loner until fellow student Law sees her drawing of a historic house and together they seek a treasure rumored to be hidden there by illegal slave-traders.

Law Walker knew Katie Mullens before she was crazy. Before her mother died. Law knows Katie’s crazy now, but she’s always been talented. And she keeps filling sketch pads even though her drawings have gone a little crazy as well—dark, bloody. What Law doesn’t know is that these drawings are real. Or were real. Katie draws what she sees—and Katie sees dead people. People who have died—recently, and not so recently—in accidents, from suicide, even a boy who was trapped in a house that burned down more than 100 years ago. And it’s this boy who makes Law want to get to know Katie all over again. So what if his dad doesn’t want him dating a white girl? So what if people think Katie is dangerous? The ghost boy is hiding a secret that Law needs to know—and it’s much bigger, much more shocking than anyone ever expected.

The Other Side of Dark covers a wide variety of subjects, but it never once becomes cumbersome or overwhelming. Each flows nicely into the next. What’s more, Smith avoids any potential to get preachy on some of the subject matters in her text. While reading this book, you never feel like you’re getting a lecture. Each issue is merely part of the story.

In fact, it’s nice to see such issues addressed in a contemporary YA book, in a way that teen readers can relate to. Katie is struggling with extreme loss — her mother; her father; her sanity. Law is struggling with his mixed racial background, and the conflict he feels regarding his father’s extreme political stance. What’s more, Katie and Law struggle individually with their feelings towards each other (and wondering how the other feels about them) — while in the midst of coping with a tragic mystery from the past.

Mental illness; America’s dark history with slavery; death & loss; family. These are just a few of the issues addressed in The Other Side of Dark — in a haunting tale that will linger with you long after the last page.

This book is gritty and raw and beautiful. It offers a powerful message within a well-told and engaging story. And perhaps most importantly, The Other Side of Dark shows you that things don’t have to be neat and pretty and tied with a bow in order to have a happy ending.

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