Sometimes you happen upon a book with a narrator who just feels 100% authentic. That was the case with Henry Turner’s debut YA mystery Ask the Dark, a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery.
Fourteen-year-old Billy Zeets lives a hard scrabble life with his widowed father and older sister, Leezie. Ever since Billy’s father hurt his back and has been unable to work, things have gone south. Now the family is on the brink of losing their house and despite Billy’s reputation for cuffing school and petty theft, he’s determined to help his father get back on his feet.
The novel starts at the end where Billy informs us that he’s feeling better. People keep asking him about what happened and Billy has decided that he’s just going to tell the story once and “get it the hell over with.” He’s not used to being the center of attention. In fact, Billy is about as much of an outlier as you can get. His classmate Sam Tate tells him
…you’d never have done it, never even found out about it, if you hadn’t done all the things people hated you for. It turns out those were the right things to do, Billy. Isn’t that funny? All that stealing and never going to school. It’s what made it so you were outside a lot, seeing things nobody else saw. Hidden and secret things.
Billy tells us that “The first boy got took last September” and that he knew him. “He was fourteen then, same as me.” They weren’t friends or anything, only he “prob’ly didn’t like me ’cause’f how I’m in trouble all the time, and his parents prob’ly told’m I ain’t the right sort of boy for him to get to know.”
When Billy stumbles upon the naked body of another missing boy, he understands that something evil is happening in his neighbourhood. He becomes more watchful and utilizing skills he’s learned from years of ducking in and out of dark alleys, back yards and woods – he starts to pay attention. He’s convinced that he can figure out who the killer is just by doing what he’s always done.
Ask the Dark has some truly creepy moments and although Billy insists he “ain’t no hero” but you’d be hard pressed to find a braver or more sympathetic kid.