Prepare for surprises galore in How to Find Your Way in the Dark, a rollicking novel that begins with a lonely truck ride in New England in 1938 and follows its characters through a decade of fascinating history. Just when you think the story is heading one way, it veers in another, completely unexpected direction.
Twelve-year-old Sheldon Horowitz and his father are driving home from Hartford, Connecticut, to Whately, Massachusetts, after honoring the one-year anniversary of Sheldon’s mother’s death. She and her sister died in a horrific movie theater fire in Hartford. And as if that isn’t enough tragedy for the novel’s first 13 pages, a truck purposely forces Sheldon and his father’s car off the road during their return trip, and Sheldon’s father dies.
Readers of Derek B. Miller’s award-winning thriller, Norwegian by Night, will recognize Sheldon as that novel’s 82-year-old protagonist. As a Tom Sawyer-like boy in How to Find Your Way in the Dark, Sheldon is determined to make sense of his double tragedies, and his attempts to do so take the reader on one hell of a ride. As he seeks out the leering, mustached truck driver who killed his father, his quest leads him straight into danger—think mobsters, guns and jewel thefts.
Miller has crafted a wide-ranging, years-spanning yet tightly structured plot, and he excels at placing memorable characters in unusual circumstances. Sheldon is joined in his adventures by his two older cousins, Abe and Mirabelle, and his best friend, Lenny, all of whom play pivotal roles. One summer, Lenny and Sheldon end up as bellhops at the famed Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskills, where Lenny practices standup comedy amid the glamorous, bustling atmosphere.
An underlying seriousness lies at the heart of all of this intrigue, hilarity and fun. Sheldon, Abe, Mirabelle and Lenny, all Jewish, must confront the many faces of antisemitism during the turbulent years of World War II. Miller weaves in a multitude of historical details, including reports of the horrors in Europe and America’s reluctance to intervene.
The ending of How to Find Your Way in the Dark is nothing short of brilliant, tying up a variety of loose ends while making a powerful statement about the need to fully recognize and address antisemitism. Readers are left with much to ponder, including life’s many uncertainties and cruel twists of fate. Despite these unhappy truths, we are also left with the uplifting wisdom of Lenny’s urgent prayer: “Dear God, give me the strength to be joyful.”