Lost in Darkness by Jeffrey Thomas
Lost in Darkness by Jeffrey Thomas (Bad Moon Books, 2011) presents me with something of a challenge. Not that this is inherently a bad thing. It does us good to be taken out of our comfort zones every now and then, forcing a reappraisal of the prejudices we hold on what to read and/or watch. But this is a first. In all the years I’ve been reading Jeffrey Thomas, it never occurred to me he would write a YA book. This is not YA in the sense of Yellow Assassin or Yammering Aardvark. I really do mean Young Adult. Yes, no matter how you cut it, this is a book which I think is fairly aimed at readers aged around 12. When book marketing became less of an art and more of a science, publishers began to carve their market up into niches so that relevant content could be targeted more directly at individual buyers. I suppose the commercialisation of adolescence began in the 1970s (missing me out, of course) with books looking at the “rite of passage” or “coming of age” tropes. The idea is that, in all cultures, there’s an initiation process for the young to go through at key milestones. So they have to become teens. Later, when they’ve matured and are all growed up, they get to become adults. I suppose all these books are about identity as each protagonist has to discover what kind of person he or she is and whether that’s acceptable. Some of the more interesting books are when our teen recognises the identity is firming up on the dark side and either this is embraced or the youngster must strive valiantly to move towards the light (hopefully not dying on the way).
So here we have a story written with the point of view of a fourteen-year-old girl. Needless to say, she’s not very sensible. So, when she has a near-death experience, she could listen to the nice “angel” telling her to stay on the path and, if she feels inclined, continuing to walk towards the light. But no. She’s one of these naturally perverse teenagers and therefore takes off down a gloomy side corridor and then decides to run down the steps into the darkness. A more brainless thing to do is hard to imagine. This being a YA book, her parents are not on hand to keep telling her to carry on running into the pit — all parents of teens get good results with negative psychology — so our heroine takes full credit for completely screwing up her chances of survival. For those of you taking notes, YA books specialise in showing kids who mess up and then have to figure out how to recover — in this case, carrying on towards the light is no longer an option. So now predatory creatures come out of the darkness and get their claws into her. Things are looking bad for our poor baby. But instead of these creatures eating her on the spot which would be the more realistic outcome, she’s able to run back up the stairs. These dark beings with their claws digging into her are not heavy, you understand. They’re more like clip-on fashion accessories for the Goth-oriented teen girl who wants a little more angst in her life.
Hey, here’s this angel guy offering good advice again. That means she’s edging back to safety. Well we can’t have that. So our young twit runs away from the light and jumps towards where she hopes Earth is. Now she’s exporting dark shadow beings back to our reality with her. Hey, now they can focus on sucking the life out of her friends. That’s her BFF and the boy who’s not quite old enough to confess his feelings and so just moons around the place like a love-sick calf. Well no-one will miss that pair apart from our heroine. So now she’s got to decide what kind of a person she is, how she feels about her friends and resolve those entirely chaste flutterings of the heart when she thinks about young boys.
I kept waiting for this book to turn into an adult novel by the Jeffrey Thomas I know and enjoy reading. It didn’t happen. If you have a twelve year old looking for something to read, Lost in Darkness is it. As YA stories go, it’s a very professional job, nicely put together, with the entirely predictable plot and outcome.