Ask the Dark Review
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Usually, the heroes in young adult novels are extremely good: smart and talented young people who would never dream of causing any kind of trouble. But in his young adult debut, Ask the Dark, author Henry Turner shows that troublemaking teens can solve crimes, too.

The story relives a tense—and terrifying—summer with teenager Billy Zeets. Everyone in town knows Billy as a troublemaker—a juvenile delinquent who’s gifted in both vandalism and theft. Ever since his mother died, though, he’s fought to stay on the straight and narrow—a task that becomes even more difficult when he discovers that the bank is about to foreclose on his home.

As Billy spends his summer taking odd jobs, the town lives in growing fear of a mysterious killer who’s targeting boys. Billy’s particular skill set makes him better equipped to track the killer—but, since the local sheriff doesn’t trust a word he says, Billy will have to solve the mystery on his own.

Told in Billy’s own words, Ask the Dark is a different kind of teen mystery. Billy Zeets isn’t the usual precocious do-gooder; he’s a kid with a troubled past that puts him right in the middle of the case—whether he wants to be there or not. He’s less Hardy Boys and more pulp fiction gumshoe—a likably flawed hero with a voice all his own. And he tells the story in a conversational style—one that’s far from standard English, though it’s rarely a distraction.

The book’s unusual young hero does come with his share of complications, though. Billy is the kind of kid who speaks his mind—and that means that, if Ask the Dark were a movie, the language would quickly earn it an R rating. Billy may acknowledge his profanities with the occasional “Scuze my language,” but he doesn’t really hold back. And, to add to the more adult nature of the story, the horrors that Billy witnesses and experiences (even if many of them are mostly just implied) can be pretty gruesome.

Admittedly, though, the story is somewhat short on suspense. Since readers are informed that Billy is telling the story after the fact—from his hospital room—the mystery is really over before it begins. It’s clear that everything works out in the end—and, from the beginning, it’s pretty obvious who’s to blame. Billy’s telling of the story simply explains how he put the pieces together and what he decided to do about it. And though it may not keep readers guessing, it’s sure to keep them entertained.

Ask the Dark isn’t the typical young adult read—and Billy Zeets is anything but the usual teen hero. This dark and edgy novel certainly isn’t for everyone, but its distinctive voice and troubled main character make it an enjoyably unique adventure.

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