Monday 10 September 2012

Review: Dark Eyes by William Richter

Born in Russia, but adopted by a wealthy American family, Wallis Stoneman has lived a life of glamorous luxury. But, aged sixteen, she rejects the world that doesn’t feel like her own to live on the streets of New York.

Now life is tougher than Wallis imagined – and it’s about to take a deadly twist. When Wallis discovers her real father’s identity, a fight to stay alive begins. Because Wallis’s real father is a terrifying Russian gangster on the hunt for her mother.

And he’ll stop at nothing and no one – even his own blood – to find her…

When I received an email from the good people at Penguin Razorbill asking with details about Dark Eyes, asking if I would be interested in a review copy I immediately clicked on reply and said: Hell, yes please! Naturally, the words they used in their press release were designed to suck me in: thriller, fast-paced, intelligent - just my kind of thing. Add in a female protagonist and a tagline of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for teens and I was equal parts excited and intrigued, and although I'm not sure it is a particularly valid comparison, Dark Eyes is still a thoroughly entertaining and fresh YA story.

Main character Wally is not a particularly easy character to warm to. Adopted from Russia as a child by a wealthy American couple she has never had to want for anything. However, this is not enough for her and she now spends her life squatting in empty New York buildings, helping her small group of friends to live off the streets, selling on anything they can scavenge. She comes across as somewhat spoiled and arrogant at first, but persevere as she will begin to grow on you. 

Her fake ID having been stolen, Wally heads out to Brighton Beach to score a new one, and her life suddenly gets turned completely upside down, as the guy she goes to see hands over a package containing a gem stone, a manila folder of documents, and a letter addressed to her using her original Russian name. What's more, Wally also finds herself being followed by person or persons unknown. So begins an exciting, modern thriller that twists and turns as Wally becomes obsessed with finding out the meaning of the letter and thus the truth behind her adoption, putting her life, and those of her friends, in extreme danger.

I suggested that readers need to persevere as far as warming to Wally's character is concerned, and this also applies to the story as a whole. Unlike many YA stories it doesn't race along at a breakneck pace from the first chapter. Instead, it builds slowly, gradually building the tension as Wally puts together the various pieces that reveal a story involving russian mob bosses, betrayal, deception and murder. Once the back story is covered the pace then picks up, and I found it very difficult to put the book down, desperate to get to the story's conclusion.

On Saturday I posted a review for Crusher by Niall Leonard, in which I applauded the author's inclusion of swearing, violence and a small, non-graphic sex scene. William Richter does exactly the same in Dark Eyes - the violence isn't tempered and the language is exactly what you might expect to hear from teenagers who have been living on the streets. Just like Crusher, this book is just one step from being an adult thriller, just as its intended readers are knocking on the door of adulthood, and as such it is right that includes these more adult elements, although I know that some parents, teachers and librarians will disagree with me.


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