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What lay ahead was a lifetime of unexplored terrain, and I was more than ready to explore it and to find out who an what I was.
Friends, it has been a few months since a book has made me feel like this. I devoured The Dark Side of Nowhere in a couple of hours and after finishing it I was left with the feeling of awe. I can’t get this book out of my head. It is magical and exactly what I love about science fiction: the light that it casts on the darkest parts of our society through storytelling. The themes I picked up of otherness, political divide are hauntingly relevant to society today.
This is a book that I heard nothing about. No one recommended it to me, I haven’t seen any reviews. It honestly just caught my eye when I was browsing on BookOutlet earlier this month. I’ve seen good things about this author’s newer work and the synopsis caught my eye, so I bought it on a whim (along with 12 other books, shhh). I picked it up on a whim this morning when I went to my TBR bookcase and didn’t refresh my memory before diving in. Going in blind without any preconceived notions of what to expect was absolutely refreshing.
The Dark Side of Nowhere is told in the first-person perspective of Jason, a 14 year old boy in a small and boring town. A little rebellious just to be something other than perfectly normal, he is finishing up his freshman year of high school when his world gets turned upside down. This is a twist on the coming-of-age story with the awkward early teenage years and not feeling like yourself. Here’s the synopsis, because that is all I am going to say about the plot. 😈
“Jason is having a bad day. The kind of day when you just don’t feel like yourself. Only for Jason, it’s not just a feeling. He really isn’t himself. Not anymore. Who is he? That’s the problem. Jason isn’t sure. And it’s not just him. Everyone in town is acting weird. His friends. His parents. Everyone. Billington is usually such a normal town. As Jason is about to discover, nothing will ever be normal again….”
The characters are all very well written and believable to the point that I feel like I know them. I really loved the main character Jason and his best friend Wesley: I felt how conflicted they both were in their own ways, and Jason’s character development was fantastic. He is growing up and learning the lesson of who he is… and who he wants to be. It is interesting to watch him try to reconcile those two.
It’s incredible the things you’ll let yourself think… the things you’ll let yourself do, when the right person gives you permission.
One of the main reasons that I love science fiction can be summed up by this David Howe quote: “[g]reat science fiction forces us to look at who we are and ask the tough questions: where we are? where are we going? and what can we expect to find when we get there?” Neal Shusterman manages to capture this spirit of the genre perfectly here, exploring the ways that isolation and polarizing beliefs make it easier to categorize “outsiders” as The Other and breed feelings of superiority. How insidious it happens.
I don’t know when I actually started thinking of myself as one of us instead of one of them […] That kind of thinking grows inside you too slow to see, but too fast to stop – like the roots of a tree.
These themes have been the root of conflict throughout human history and are timelessly relevant, but reading this book now in the age of algorithmic echo chambers, increased nationalism, and intense polarization was nothing less than haunting.
The thing about living in a private world, is that you’ve got nothing to feed on but the same thoughts and ideas bouncing forth at you from your friends. You sort of get locked in a feedback loop, and the things that start to sound normal and reasonable have no bearing on what’s true.
Shusterman has a way with words that captures the reader’s attention and holds it from start to finish. The worldbuilding is superb, and he manages to explain the unexplainable in such a believeable way for the reader that the reader doesn’t need to suspend disbelief to be drawn into the story. There are so many small details that helped paint such a great picture for me, but I really want to avoid spoiling the plot so I am going to refrain.
The book is very well plotted; the rising action is steady and super engaging as it builds to the climax. The writing style kept me on the edge of my seat, craving what would happen next and how things would turn out! The action goes until almost the very ending of the book and I was nervous that things wouldn’t wrap up, but I was pleased with the ending. It is a little ambiguous, but not in a bad way – it leaves the future open to your own interpretation without making you feel like you read an incomplete story.
I loved this book so much and cannot wait to read another book by Shusterman! I found the plot to be something entirely unique, fast-paced, with fantastic worldbuilding and character development. If you are a fan of science fiction that casually explores the darkest parts of society without shoving a message down your throat, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Please read it so I have someone to talk about this book with.
You can find information about my rating criteria here.