[The Darkest Corners] Kara Thomas

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The Darkest Corners is a young adult thriller/mystery novel about how returning to the places you’ve been running from can drudge up memories you’d rather forget. Tessa comes back to her hometown, the place she left when she was a child, in order to say goodbye to her father. A father that had been convicted for murder and has been out of her life ever since. One day. That’s all it will take. Then she can get the hell back out of Fayette, Pennsylvania. When something from her past becomes a present problem, Tessa knows that she can’t disappear from Fayette this time. She needs answers. And this time, she won’t be so easily manipulated.

Tessa is an unreliable narrator. She hides things from the people around her and the reader and only reveals them when she absolutely has to. Coming from a bad family makes it really hard for her to trust and rely on anyone but herself, and after the events of that summer when she and Callie were eight, it only got worse. It was a definitive part of growing up and affected her accordingly. Although when I started reading the novel I liked her voice, there was some point in the novel where she became kind of blah. I think it coincided with the point when I felt the novel became more telling than showing, and that reflected badly back on her.

Something that The Darkest Corners does well is the issue of identity. Tessa lost her father to prison at a young age, so her memories of him are slightly different than his rosy ones of her. Escaping to Florida and her grandmother meant that she didn’t have to grow up with this hanging over her head. What’s even better for her is that she can escape the knowledge that she and Callie testified at the trial of a killer, which was key to putting him away when they were only eight. She’s been able to shape herself into someone who isn’t the white-trash girl with a criminal daddy that Fayette knows her as.

When she goes back to Fayette, she no longer can avoid her past and who she was; everything that she has been avoiding is in direct conflict with this new self she has created. Tessa and Callie’s friendship fractured as they both tried to deal with what they saw and said. Both changed. At Tessa’s return, the lies they told themselves start falling apart. Identity is shown as something that is fluid, yet not, in this novel. It questions how much of your identity is formed by your surroundings and the people around you and how much you have the control of it.

Tessa and the friendship she has with Callie is also something I really enjoyed. Initially, they had grown so far apart that I though this was going to be one of those novels where the protagonist girl-hated the entire time. There was a bit of that, but not enough that I felt it was abnormal behavior. As they followed the threads of the mystery, they repaired their relationship and atoned for what they had done. Gradually, the multiple mysteries of the novel started pulling together with varying success.

Parts of the novel became very information heavy as mysteries were progressing.  It became very telling, which detracted from the story itself. Oddly enough, all of that telling didn’t give the reader everything that was needed in order to back up some of the things revealed in the novel. Because of that, they often seemed like they were coming out of nowhere. Many of the things that were brought up later became loose ends with no satisfying conclusion. After reading all about this investigation, I had a very “that’s it?” attitude at the end because I was expecting more.

I would describe The Darkest Corners as more of a mystery, despite it being labeled a thriller. The plot was pretty good, although there were parts that were less successful due to the desire to create plot curves. One of my favorite things that was included was actually the letter to the reader at the very beginning of the novel. It lent a bit of realism to the story because I was initially unsure if Wyatt Stokes was real or not.

The Darkest Corners did have dark themes and was dark, but I ultimately felt that it was a bit surface level. I felt that a lot of the dark stuff didn’t delve very deep; it was just enough to show us how “bad” things were, but it wasn’t enough to make us feel uncomfortable. Kidnappings and murder, underage drinking to forget, prostitution…they just felt like words on the page meant to garner some sympathy for the characters and their lives but it failed a bit for me. I think that The Darkest Corners could have benefited if the slight grittiness of the world had been expanded upon and gone a bit further into the darkness. The fact that it wasn’t may have been in order to keep the novel for young adults instead of older readers.

This novel was a fairly quick read and kept me interested the entire time I was reading; it was only at the end that I realized I was kind of bored with it. I liked it, but personally would not read it a second time. There were just tiny little things that didn’t go one hundred percent and gave the novel a less than satisfying feeling. I recommend this for people who enjoy novels where things aren’t always straightforward, slightly unreliable narrators, and gritty mysteries in broken towns.

3 stars.

I received a copy of The Darkest Corners from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Darkest Corners will be available on April 19th, 2016.

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