Kathleen Glasgow, How to Make Friends With the Dark, HarperCollins Publishers, April 2019, 432 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781460751060
This is quite a lengthy read, but the story has a strong narrative drive to pull the reader along. Like so many YA novels, there is a great deal of trauma and suffering to travel through. It is best suited to mature teen readers.
Grace “Tiger” Tolliver, the protagonist, confronts many obstacles during a typically “things get worse” hero’s journey. She has led an unusually sheltered life for a sixteen-year old. This is the result of being an only child, living with her over-protective single-parent mother, June, with no extended family. Tiger has one best friend, Cake, and a boy, Kai, with whom she is on the cusp of a relationship.
An argument with her mother over the school dance, and an out-dated lace dress that Tiger’s mother buys for her, causes their first ever major conflict. Tiger kisses Kai for the first time and doesn’t go home as usual. That same afternoon, June suffers a fatal aneurysm. Tiger is suddenly an orphan, riddled with guilt, and is taken into state care.
A downward spiral of despair, helplessness and grief follows as Tiger mourns her mother in the dark. Wearing the hated lace dress, she refuses to eat, erupts into violence and tries to numb her pain with risky behaviour. A succession of foster homes, case workers and centres form an unfamiliar maze with a new set of rules to be negotiated.
There are a variety of “helper” characters: Thaddeus, Lala, Mr Roberts and Mae-Lynn, who provide advice on survival. Cake’s detective work results in the discovery of lost relatives, who turn out to be mixed blessings.
Nothing will ever be the same again, but Tiger finds a way forward in a new home and the book ends with a sense of optimism. The lights have gone out on her old life, but the stars are still glowing, even in the grim darkness of grief.
Reviewed by Julie Thorndyke