There are things in Winter, Wisconsin, folks just don't talk about. That murder way back in '45 is one. The near suicide of a first grade teacher is another. And then there is 17 year old Christian Cage. Christian's parents disappeared when he was a little boy, and ever since he's drawn and painted obsessively, trying desperately to remember his mother. The problem is Christian doesn't just draw his own memories. He can draw the thoughts of those around him. Confronted with fears and nightmares they'd rather avoid, people have a bad habit of dying. So it's no surprise that Christian isn't exactly popular.
What no one expects is for Christian to meet Winter's last surviving Jew and uncover one more thing best forgotten - the day the Nazis came to town. Based on a little known fact of the United States' involvement in World War II, Draw the Dark is a YA dark fantasy about reclaiming the forgotten past and the redeeming power of love. (book back blurb)
Reading this book was kind of like riding the TGV train in Europe. It starts off kind of slow, just chugging along, until it gets it footing in wide open fields and starts barreling at its full potential: ramming down the countryside at 200 miles per hour and you're sitting there wobbling with the carriage enjoying the ride but somewhere deep in the back of your mind you're hoping the brakes are good.
This was such an amazing book. The more I read, the more I wanted to devour. I didn't want my lunch break to end because I wanted to keep reading. Would they notice if I went I few minutes longer? I just swallowed it up once I got over the beginning. It did meander a bit and it was a little slow to start. I felt getting into Christian's head could have been trimmed some because I was starting to feel, after a while, like saying 'get on with it.' Oh get on it did.
When I first met Christian I initially thought he was a little slow, mentally. Just the way he talked and the way he was portrayed as acting he just didn't seem like he was "all there," is I guess what you would want to say. But by the end not only was I totally over that notion, I thought Christian was actually a brilliant kid with a power that he didn't know how to wield so he functioned around it, not knowing how to control it. I loved him and felt for him and I was right there behind his eyes with him every step of the way.
I want to say this book is historical fiction but, technically, it doesn't fit the bill. But Christian relives the memories of people so much and I learned so much history about Winter through Christian's eyes that it's hard not to call it historical fiction. It also has fantastical elements too. It doesn't start out that way but once we start seeing that Christian isn't just strange but actually has the power to see people's thoughts, draw them out and tap into their darkest fears to actually destroy them, the fantasy starts coming out.
What I liked most about that, though, was that it's fantastical grounded in the realistic. We don't really know what's going on with Christian but we're in his head experiencing everything he is. But all of his visions are rooted in reality. He's not seeing Fey or ghosts but genuine memories from the past that help to solve a decades old murder and vindicate lives lost, both literally and figuratively.
The history that Bick draws on, Nazi prison camps in the US, just spurned my want to find out more. Really? Nazis here? I knew that our own government rounded up Japanese when we entered the war and relocated them to camps but we had POW camps? A quick Google search uncovered an extensive list of all the POW camps in the US just after World War II. One was about 20 minutes from where I live now, at the local airport. Reading, even fiction, enlightens us to historical facts sometimes. But in the midst of all of this, the strife that this caused this town of Winter (whether the actual events were real or not) is horrifying. A town populated by Jews are losing their jobs to Nazi prison workers. When they tried to unionize, the POWs took their jobs then too. Horrible.
The ending was bittersweet. It wraps up the overall story and the mystery aspect of the plot but at the same time shatters something so sweet and innocent it actually took my breath away. It doesn't end on a fluffy, happy note, but an empowering one. Christian has grown up. He's not seen as some weirdo that likes to draw and keeps to himself all the time. He saves people. He solves murders. And he still draws. He tried his hardest to break out of his own shell and let people in. But even at the end, whether he survives his own accomplishments is in question.
The writing is glorious, compelling, and will suck you right into your own sideways place. Maybe you'll want to crawl out and back into the light. Maybe you won't. But you'll go in there and meet Christian. You'll curl up in his brain and ride his life with him. You'll feel his pain, his fear, his anger, his frustration. And when the last page turns, you'll be feigning for more.
If you want a book that'll tug at your brain and your heart all at once, read Draw the Dark. It's a gripping historical fiction set during the present day and told through the eyes of a teenager with a miraculous and terrifying gift. Once you hop aboard the train, it'll take you away and while you might be afraid of the speed, you won't want to get off. You'll never want it to end.
The lovely people at Carolrhoda Lab has graciously given me a copy of Draw the Dark to give away (because I'll be damned if I relinquish my copy!). Trust me, guys. You want to read this one. Just fill out the form below for your chance to win!