‘Dark Room’ by Tom Becker
Due to the uninspiring cover and the toe-curling slogan ‘Are you ready for your close-up?’, I almost skipped this novel. The only reason I changed my mind was the overall positive reviews on Goodreads. Now, I’m really glad I gave it a chance, because ‘Dark Room’ isn’t horror at all, but über good YA mystery that doesn’t disappoint a bit. In fact the wonderfully creepy atmosphere and excitement that hung in the air at night in gloomy, southern Saffron Hills, was absolutely to die for!
September 10th 2015
Little Tiger Press
Present time, South Carolina. 17 year old motherless Darla is fleeing from town to town, lead by her alcoholic dad, Hopper — a disillusioned guitarist and a scammer who tries to impress every single waitress on their way. That is, when he has enough money to buy Darla food in diners.
One evening, Darla and Hopper spontaneously and accidentally end up in a place called Saffron Hills. It’s obvious that Hopper knows the town and has second opinions about staying, but when he successfully forces an old friend in the town – a crook that has turned into a money making real estate agent – to offer them a temporary house, he thinks they’ve finally struck gold.
For the first time in years, Darla gets her own room. They’ve even got a new sweet artist neighbor called Annie, who likes Darla from first sight. Right away Darla forgives Hopper for leaving their trailer park in the middle of the night, until Hopper also tells Darla to go to high school in Saffron Hills.
Darla has never had any good experiences in a classroom, and even before starting school, she get’s ridiculed by the popular, rich and beautiful teens at the local mall. A guy walks straight towards her, puts his arm around Darla and takes a picture of them together, without even asking.
When Darla’s bullied by the same kids and their even more arrogant model-like friends at the new school, she teams up with Sasha, the school’s hardrock-loving punk girl and her faithful friend Frank. But the verbal war between the two cliques doesn’t last long, because Natalie – one of the beautiful bullies – gets brutally murdered.
Excerpt from ‘Dark room’
Distracted, she went back over to her desk and picked up the photograph. As Natalie stared at it, the room suddenly went very cold. Her face was red and there was a cluster of pimples on her forehead. But that wasn’t why the sweat had frozen on her skin. Behind Natalie’s shoulder, through the open closet door, there was a pale, blurred oval in the shadows.
The photograph fell fluttering from Natalie’s fingers. She backed slowly away from the closet, and felt her back bump against her desk. Scrabbling through her things, she snatched up a pair of scissors, her hands shaking as she held them out in front of her.
“Who’s there?” she called out.
Misleading cover art
We all do it. Judge books by their covers. Nothing wrong with that. Publishers know it. The cover is the gift wrap of the product, so it better reflect the story inside. That is, if you wanna attract the right readers.
The ‘Dark Room’ cover follows the RED EYE series all right, but let me be honest, it’s absolutely horrible! The cheap and unambitious 70s style of a camera with an evil-looking clown in the lens. It looks anything but YA.
Worst of all, it’s easily mistaken for a novel like the blood spattering SAW movies, when what’s really inside is a story similar to Wes Craven’s fantastic ‘Scream’ movies. And there’s a REALLY. BIG. DIFFERENCE.
‘SAW’ is for hardcore horror fans, who doesn’t suffer from night terrors, no matter how violent, realistic and bloody the torture scenes are becoming. ‘SCREAM’ is for teens who likes to hide behind pillows and jump in their seat throwing popcorn all over the floor and the sleeping dog, because of a Boooh at the exact right moment.
‘Dark Room’ is plain and simple young adult mystery at its best – with popcorn-throwing Boooh’s, of course.
The only thing that counts is living in the moment
Because ‘Dark Room’ is the kind of mystery that unfolds bit by bit, it wouldn’t be fair to analyze each and every step. Let me just say the plot was thrilling and almost impossible to predict. Also the characters and the universe in itself was very credible and well built up.
Even though Darla as the protagonist is a scared little mouse we hardly get to know, it still worked for me, because it’s written in a way that made me feel like I was Darla, or rather like she was me. I had to relate to Hopper, Sasha and the other very charismatic main characters, and maybe for the first time, I didn’t miss a strong protagonist, because the story is so intense, that the only thing that counts is living – and surviving – in the moment.
A beautifully drawn YA cover showing the strong points of this book — the wonderfully creepy atmosphere and excitement that hangs in the air at night in gloomy, southern Saffron Hills — would have attracted so many more mystery reading teens and done this story an incredibly big favor.
But apart from that, ‘Dark Room’ was great entertainment!
(Thanks NetGalley and Little Tiger Press for the e-ARC of this novel)