The events of Darkest Light unfold sixteen years after Hiromi Goto’s Half World (here, I spell out the reasons why I fell under its spell).
Melanie is off-stage and readers know little of her story, only what Gee, knows, that “…something had happened to Older Sister. Something bad.”
Darkest Light is the story (in part) of Gee’s discovery of what Melanie’s ‘something’ really was.
“What that something was his popo had never shared, but Gee could feel the power of it, so enormous that he didn’t want to know its name.”
Just as Melanie was not your typical YA fantasy novel heroine, Gee is not a typical hero.
“At first the Neo Goth kids at school had been drawn to his striking looks. They’d thought he was one of them until they realized that his white skin wasn’t makeup, but was his natural complexion, and that he wasn’t wearing contact lenses.”
And it’s not just that he looks different, there is something else about him, too. Something enormous. Something powerful.
“After a few awkward starts at conversations they had pulled away, as if they couldn’t stand to be around him. Like he gave off a kind of smell. He was avoided by everyone thereafter.”
But not everyone pulls away; some actually pursue him. They are hybrid creatures, alarming, even horrifying. They are from elsewhere, from another realm.
‘Yesssss. Your true father and mother are waiting for you,” she breathed. ‘They’ve missed you so. As I have. We need you to come back….’
Because Melanie is not Gee’s Older Sister by blood. And ‘back’? Back means back to Half World, back to that powerful, enormous something.
“If you eat just one of the little girls, the bad voice inside of him cajoled, you’ll have strength enough to survive. To do what you must so that you can go back home.”
And the most horrifying part of that is that these are not monsters after all. They are all just doing what they need to do to preserve or rediscover their homes, their selves.
“Gee shook his head. Didn’t Cracker understand? All the Half World monsters they’d encountered had started out as humans….”
This is the most surprising element of Darkest Light, one which cannot be openly discussed without spoiling the nexus of the work. That not only can humans behave monstrously, but monsters can behave compassionately.
“Does a monster know when to stop being a monster? Do you think a monster can change?”
Hiromi Goto put a pudgy, whiny, fearful, Asian girl at the heart of Half World and she puts a skinny, angry, ambivalent, too-white teenage boy at the heart of Darkest Light; both characters are readily believable with their imperfections.
Gee and Melanie exhibit streaks of cruelty, cowardice and selfishness alongside bursts of kindness, bravery and loyalty. They inhabit a world which is both fresh and familiar. The novel confronts uncomfortable truths and offers readers a balance of resolution and challenge.
Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations are expressive and evocative, usually character-focussed and rarely depict the scenes which Hiromi Goto describes so richly. They remind readers that Half World may be a black-and-white dimension, but the realm of the imagination is all-a-colour and Hiromi Goto’s creative works are more diversely shaded than most.
Check out the publisher’s page for a trailer, an excerpt, and links to interviews and other supplementary material.
Could you read Darkest Light as a standalone? Of course. But the most striking element of the story is fully understood from the start for those readers who have come to Gee’s story through Half World. (It’s only gradually understood throughout Darkest Light.)
Check out the other participants’ reviews in A More Diverse Universe reading event, including other thoughts on Hiromi Goto’s works (like here, at FizzyThoughts, and I’ll add more as they appear, and I also previously chatted about her children’s novel here.)