Sunday, August 25, 2013

Through a Brief Darkness (Book Review)

Title:  Through a Brief Darkness
Author: Richard Peck
Publication Information: Viking Press hardcover, 1973
Genre: Juvenile Suspense / Young Adult Suspense
Plot:  Ever since sixth grade, Karen has known, deep down, that her father is a criminal, but for years she has been at boarding school and her infrequent contact with him never made it easy to ask tough questions.  Her fondest memory is from a summer in Wisconsin when she was nine, playing with the normal family next door and their 11 year old son, Jay Fielding. The present is dreary and lonely so Karen is startled but intrigued when she is suddenly pulled out of boarding school and sent to England to stay with her deceased mother’s relatives.  But soon she realizes there is something creepy about her English cousins; she’s worried about her absent father; and she is afraid she is in danger – or is she?

What I liked:  Peck won the Newbery Award in 2001 for A Year Down Yonder but his body of work is extremely diverse, some serious and some lighthearted.  This is not one of Peck’s funny books.  It is dark and written in an oddly detached style that adds to the sense of growing dread.  At first Karen is pleased to meet relatives who share stories about the mother she lost when she was three, and she enjoys seeing London, although wishes there were more museums and less shopping with Cousin Blanche. 

There’s something worse, Karen thought, than being in danger.  And that’s being in possible danger.  Not being sure.  Risking the wrong word to the wrong person.

For years she has written letters, but never mailed them, pouring out her worries to her childhood friend Jay.  But when they’d lost touch he’d been talking about going to Eton, so now that Karen is frightened she writes to him at Eton, asking for help.  Once Karen has backup, she is ready to make her escape. 
What I disliked:  The plot relies on a lot of coincidences and people conveniently placed to assist Karen.  How on earth did an ordinary boy from Illinois not only wind up at Eton but also is an admired sixth former?   That seems extremely unlikely for many reasons although Jay is a very charming young man.  And would he really turn up so quickly for a girl he hadn’t seen since he was 11?

Source:  The only copy in the Minuteman System is at Framingham State College.  They ignored my electronic request until I called the reference department, then (astonished) sent it to my branch.  I had never come across this Peck book but think it must have been mentioned on Goodreads, inspiring me to hunt it down.

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