By Henry Turner
Available now from Clarion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Henry Turner's debut novel ASK THE DARK is about a boy who encounters a serial killer, but it isn't straight horror. At the Houston Teen Book Con, Turner said HUCKLEBERRY FINN was a huge influence on this novel, and I can really see that.
Billy Zeets used to be pretty wild, vandalizing people's cars and egging homes and more. It's earned him a bad reputation even though he's managed to mostly turn himself around. His mother died and his dad got sober, but an accident left him disabled and unable to work. It's up to Billy and his sister to get the money to keep their house out of foreclosure, and his sister is really pinning it on Billy.
The kids in town are on curfew because boys have been disappearing, and the first two to disappear have been found murdered. But Billy just can't stay inside. He's always roamed the neighborhood in the dark. And he's started to realize that he sees things when he roams. That maybe he has the pieces he needs to find the killer. He needs proof, however, because no one will trust him.
I really enjoyed ASK THE DARK. Billy's voice is compelling, the dialect present but not distracting. As a boys' adventure story gone wrong, it's aces. I particularly like how much Turner leaves to the imagination. There's no description of the bodies, nor of exactly what he does to the boys he's taken. Billy alludes to things, is traumatized by things, but he wants to maintain some privacy. And imagining what might've happened is both scarier and without the unpleasantness of those authorial descriptions of torture that seem to into it.
Those looking for a horror story or thriller might be disappointed by ASK THE DARK. But it is a terrific dark coming of age tale, a boy finding his mettle in the worst circumstances possible. Turner has a very developed sense of character voice for a debut author, and I look forward to his future works.