Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick

"The things I draw: They tend to die."

There are things the people of Winter, Wisconsin, would rather forget. The year the Nazis came to town, for one. That fire, for another. But what they'd really like to forget is Christian Cage.
Seventeen-year-old Christian's parents disappeared when he was a little boy. Ever since, he's drawn obsessively: his mother's face...her eyes...and what he calls "the sideways place," where he says his parents are trapped. Christian figures if he can just see through his mother's eyes, maybe he can get there somehow and save them.
But Christian also draws other things. Ugly things. Evil things. Dark things. Things like other people's fears and nightmares. Their pasts. Their destiny.
There's one more thing the people of Winter would like to forget: murder.
But Winter won't be able to forget the truth, no matter how hard it tries. Not as long as Christian draws the dark...
Wow.  This was a fantastic read.  Mysterious and intense and creepy, this YA novel is definitely not for younger readers.

Christian is a boy who is troubled and isolated, ostracised by many in town.  But unlike many YA stories, he has the benefit of a loving and very present parental figure in his Uncle Hank.  Hank may not always understand what Christian is going through-- it would take a leap of faith that a logical, law and order type like Hank has trouble making.  But he always loves Christian and struggles with letting go and allowing him to fight his own battles, like many parents do. 

There was a little bit of bait-and-switch in the mystery, however.  The cover copy references Christian's parents, who disappeared separately when he was little.  But most of the book focuses on an unsolved murder from 1945 and other strange events that occurred at that time, and Christian's frightening, unexplained abilities.  The murder and other events are wrapped up through a combination of Christian's talent and the work of a forensics team.  The issue of his parents is raised again at the end of the book as Christian steps out into the unknown.  It's a satisfying resolution overall, and the mysteries that take up most of the book are very involving.  They just aren't the mysteries that the first few chapters suggest.

While not a religious book, religious identity plays a part.  How could it not when the history of a Nazi PW camp is discovered, and a whole Jewish community has disappeared?  Also, Christian's only friend is a PK.  (Preacher's Kid)  It was refreshing to see that both faiths are treated respectfully in the story, with no one coming off as a caricature and no one viewpoint presented as The Truth.

There was one other big thing I loved in this novel-- the descriptions of Christian when he is drawing.  As a writer I really related to how Bick described that all-consuming place you go when you create.  I'm sure that anyone who has a passion, whether it's art or music or writing code or running or a million other things, will recognize it and relate to Christian in those scenes.

I definitely recommend this book.  Engrossing and well written, the author pulls a lot of different ideas into a cohesive, entertaining story.  A-.

And just to keep everything on the up and up, I received this book as a free digital ARC through NetGalley.  No money or other goodies were offered or exchanged for this review.


  1. Thank you for such a lovely review, Becky. Always a pleasure to read that someone's found my work fun and entertaining.
    Just as an FYI: There's going to be a con for folks who blog about and love kids/YA literature this October, and you might want to consider coming. Not only is my fantabulous editor, Andrew Karre, one of the organizers, some fine authors will be there (Maggie Stiefvater, for example). Honestly, though, the con's focus is on you bloggers. As a writer, I'd love to know what bloggers want to see/read, too.
    Anyway, check out this site for KidLitCon if you're interested:

    Thanks again!

    Ilsa J. Bick

  2. Thanks for the info, Ilsa, it looks really interesting! Unfortunately, that's the weekend I'm pulling up stakes and moving from Massachusetts to Indiana. Terrible timing. But I'll definitely keep it in mind if there's a Kidlit Con 2011!


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