The Dark Light by Julia Bell (Macmillan Children's Books, 16 July 2015)
Okay, so, I must admit, though I have never read any books about cults, I've always thought that they probably wouldn't be my thing. There seem to be quite a lot of YA books about cults lately, and I didn't want to read any of them, but when I saw THE DARK LIGHT, it caught my eye because of the LGBTQ content in the synopsis – two girls sharing a kiss. That definitely piqued my interest. However, after reading this book, I think I'd do better to stay away from books about cults in the future, even if they're LGBTQ.
When Alex commits arson as revenge for being bullied at school, she is sent to a Christian island community for the summer to learn how to make a fresh start and stay out of trouble. Pastor Bevins will help her, they say. Among the first group of believers she meets to take her to the island is Rebekah, a girl her age who's grown up on the island and knows hardly anything about the outside world. When Alex arrives at the island, she realises that things are a lot more complicated and sinister than she expected, and all she wants to do is go home. Pastor Bevins insists that the Rapture is coming soon, and he is the kind of man who will stop at no costs. As Alex and Rebekah develop feelings for each other, Rebekah is forced to question everything she's ever known. Can the two of them escape the island before it's too late?
I thought this book had so much promise. The beginning really drew me in! When Alex is introduced to us, she already knows that she's gay, and she seems to be quite a confident figure. She's got a lip piercing and a couple of cool tattoos. Rebekah at first mistakes her for a boy. Everything about her character appealed immensely to me and I couldn't wait to find out more about her.
Unfortunately, we barely find out anything about her over the course of this book. We learn a little bit about how her mother died and how Alex was adopted, but beyond that – we don't get to know anything about her present life, before she gets sent to the island. There's literally only one page – the very first page of the book – about how she's being bullied at school. She has a picture of her smiling with some girl on her phone, but the story behind that is never explained. I desperately wanted to know more about her, but I got nothing.
The book was so short, as well. I really think it could have done with being longer so all the characters and the story could be fleshed out more. I wanted to understand what motivated all the different characters – apart from Rebekah, everyone else on the island chose to come to the island of their own accord. Why were they really there? Why did they stay? What made them believe so fervently? I don't know. What's up with Pastor Bevins? What is it that drives him? As it was, they all seemed so two-dimensional and the story was completely flat for me. I think this is why I'm wary of books about cults – I just wonder if the books can do justice to the complexity that these cults and the personalities involved in the cults possess.
Nothing in this book is developed fully enough. Rebekah and Alex! Oh. They could have been so much more interesting. They kiss, once. I expected more emotional conflict on Rebekah's part, or just even a more detailed description of the kiss and Rebekah's immediate reaction to it. In fact, the kiss scene is barely even there – it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of moment. What with the kiss being mentioned in the blurb of the book, I really thought there would be so much more made of it! But in fact the blurb is kind of misleading, because nobody else actually witnesses the kiss. And the way it's written in the book, it doesn't even seem like that big of a deal.
I found the ending deeply unsatisfying as well – it comes way too abruptly, and it really frustrated me because there was still so many questions I had that I wanted answers to. I wanted to know more about how Alex felt about all the things that had happened to her over the course of the book, and I wanted to know about where Alex and Rebekah were going to go from here.
THE DARK LIGHT had potential and started off well, but the whole story was too rushed and its potential went unfulfilled.