The House on the Hill has been abandoned for as long as James can remember. So when he discovers Webster, a drifter, hiding there, he's instantly curious about the story behind the homeless man. What is he running from? Afflicted by a dark curse, Webster is no longer who he used to be. But there is said to be a cure and it might just be that by helping Webster, James will find some solace of his own. Together they embark on a journey, not knowing that what they discover will impact them both in ways they never imagined...A gripping and haunting story about loss and hope, perfect for fans of Patrick Ness and David Almond.
This is one of those books best read with as little prior knowledge of the story as possible, so I'm going to be brief with my details here. Teenager James is an unhappy and troubled young man. He is still struggling to deal with the loss of his mother, a situation not helped by the fact that he has to live with his violent, alcohol loving (and seemingly unloving and resentful) step-father. James' only place of retreat from the day-to-day troubles at home is a run-down, abandoned old house, where he daily marks up the number of days until he is old enough to leave home for good. One day James discovers Webster, an seriously injured man in the house, a man who believes he is cursed and who is on the run from a family of gypsies who believe in the curse and want to cage and exploit him. As James and Webster join forces to escape from their respective troubles, they embark on a dangerous journey of hope and discovery that will change both of them forever.
The publishers are pushing this book by likening it to the works of David Almond and Patrick Ness, and I can't argue with them for doing this. In particular, this book took me back to when I first read Skellig, which I've just worked out was more than fourteen years ago. Like Skellig, this is an story about a young person who strikes up a deep and rewarding friendship with an older person, although the books differ in that almost from the start of Skellig we are left in little doubt as to the otherworldliness of the mysterious person discovered in the garage, whilst in The Dark Inside we are kept guessing about this all the way through to the end. Is Webster actually cursed or has he just been 'changed' by his experiences in the war and is suffering from some kind of PTSD illness? For me it was this key piece of information that kept me so enthralled with his story from beginning to end.
I have to admit that one of the YA genres that I rarely ever read is contemporary. As an Assistant Headteacher, and an ex-Head of Year with considerable pastoral experience, I have spent a lot of my career working with young people with a huge variety of issues, and so when I get home from work the last thing I want to do is pick up a book and read about young people with similar issues. I was therefore suckered into reading The Dark Inside by those wonderful people at Simon and Schuster by the paranormal spin they put on the story in their press release. And I am truly grateful for this and otherwise I would have missed out on an exciting, compelling, though-provoking story. It covers themes of loss, hope, friendship and forgiveness in a way that I feel is far more accessible and interesting for young adults than many of the (admittedly few) contemporary YA books I have read. I know there are legions of YA contemp fans out there, so please remember that this is my own opinion, and do seek out reviews on other sites written by people who read this genre far more regularly than I do.
Rupert Wallis' prose is an absolute joy to read, and this is one of those books that is cross-generational, in that it will be enjoyed equally by teens and adults, although possibly on different levels. I would be very surprised if this book does not find itself on the shortlist of a host of different book awards over the next year or so, as the story and writing has that rarely seen power to affect the reader deeply and leave them thinking about the book for some time after the final page has been turned.
The Dark Inside is due to be published in a lovely hardback edition on 30 January, and I believe that there will also be a number of signed special limited edition copies that will only be available in independent book shops. Look out for them as this book is a keeper - one of those you will read, proudly display on your bookshelf, and then probably pick up again a year or two's time, to read all over again. My thanks go to the lovely people at Simon and Schuster for sending me a copy to read.