Book: “A Line in the Dark” by Malinda Lo
Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!
Book Description: The most important thing is that Jess Wong is Angie Redmond’s best friend, even if Angie can’t see how she truly feels. It’s okay that Jess is the girl on the sidelines that nobody notices. That means she’s free to watch everyone else and be at Angie’s side. But when Angie starts falling for Margot, a girl from the nearby boarding school, Jess can already see what’s going to happen. And suddenly her gift for observation is a curse.
As Angie drags Jess further into Margot’s circle, Jess finds more than her friend’s growing crush. Secrets lie just beneath the carefree surface of this world, and when they come out, Jess knows Angie won’t be able to handle the consequences. When the inevitable darkness finally descends, Angie will need her best friend.
Review: A couple years ago Serena and I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival, and given that neither of us have any will power we both left with a few books in tow. One of the books that I brought with me was “A Line in the Dark” by Malinda Lo, which had been on my Highlights list in October 2017. Suffice to say, it languished on my shelf for awhile. Like, two years and a fourth years awhile. Definitely my bad. But since I’m trying to read books that I’ve been putting off as of late, I decided the time had come for “A Line in the Dark”.
It takes a little while to get there, but ultimately “A Line in the Dark” is a mystery. But the bigger themes involve friendship, loyalty, privilege, and jealousy. Jess and Angie are best friends, but the tension that exists between them is almost immediate, and prevalent throughout the narrative. Jess is infatuated with Angie, and her devotion to her best friend is exacerbated even more so because of her attraction for her. So when Angie starts dating the privileged and potentially toxic Margot from the local boarding school, Jess’s jealously starts to fester and stir. It’s hard to know much about Margot, as this book spends a lot of the time in Jess’s head, and her opinion is skewed because of her jealousy. We don’t know if Jess is an unreliable narrator, which adds to the mystery that appears when Margot’s friend Ryan (another mean girl from the boarding school) goes missing after a party that all of the girls attend. Ryan’s disappearance and it’s aftermath is told through Jess’s POV, transcripts of police interviews, and a sudden shift in perspective as the narrative turns to third person. While the first person POV and transcripts worked well together, the sudden shift to third person felt a little forced, especially since it happens later in the book as opposed to being established right away. That said, I did like the mystery and how the clues unfolded, as well as how we eventually got to the solution through these three devices. Even if the third device wasn’t as strong, in my opinion.
That said, I did have a problem with how the characters were presented. There were already some limitations due to the majority of the novel being in the first person, but I do believe that a first person POV doesn’t necessarily hinder an author from character development. I’ve read a number of books in the first person where I still got a really good sense of the surrounding characters, but “A Line in the Dark” didn’t have that. I never really got a good sense for what Angie was like outside of being an object of affection for Jess. We’re told that Jess’s parents think she’s a bad influence, but I never could really figure out why that was. Margot gets a little more to work with, but that isn’t clear until we’re basically done with the story. And even though we have Jess’s first person perspective throughout a lot of the narrative, I felt like the only thing I really knew about her was her love of art and her devotion to Angie. I did like that Lo does comment on classism and racism within this book, as Jess is Chinese American and has to deal with privileged and racist wealthy kids during her art program and when she hangs out with Angie and Margot and Margot’s group. I thought that while it was subtle commentary, it packed a punch.
Not so compelling characters aside, I enjoyed “A Line in the Dark” for it’s mystery. I will definitely be looking into reading more works by Lo, as it’s undeniable that she knows how to craft a tense story.
Rating 6: A solid mystery that keeps the tension taut, “A Line in the Dark” kept me interested, even if the characters weren’t as drawn out as I’d hoped they would be.
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