November 2010

Caught between two worlds

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Law Walker comes from a home of wealth and prestige. His father is a prominent black Harvard professor who preaches in favor of reparations for slavery. Law’s mother, an architectural historian (and a white woman), is desperately trying to save Pinebank, a Boston landmark and the center of much controversy, from demolition. A child of mixed race, Law struggles with his identity: “I feel less black than Eminem,” he says.

Living in a very different world is Law’s high school classmate Katie Mullens, an orphan who has been grieving the death of her mother for the past year. Labeled crazy by her peers, she sees ghosts and draws deeply disturbing images of death. She is almost swallowed up in her grief until she and Law begin a life-saving relationship. Unfortunately, Law’s parents don’t approve of Katie. Not only is she poor, and from a broken home, but she’s also white—a fact not lost on Law either. For a guy struggling with being black, having a white girlfriend isn’t easy.

The two couldn’t be less alike, and yet they are drawn together by a centuries-old mystery surrounding the decrepit Pinebank and the ghosts who reside there. For Law and his mother, Pinebank is an irreplaceable historical gem, even if Law’s father condemns the house for the crimes committed by its slave-owning proprietor. For Katie, the key to freeing herself from the spirits who haunt her is buried somewhere in that house.

In her first novel for teens, Sarah Smith tells Law’s and Katie’s stories in alternating chapters, masterfully weaving in the very real and detailed history of Pinebank. The result is a haunting, emotional tale about a teenage girl’s unraveling, and a boy whose very identity feels entwined in a house condemned for demolition. The Other Side of Dark is no ordinary ghost story, but rather a meticulously researched and poignant tale about grief, identity and the dark pasts that can define us.


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