The Other Side of Dark by Sarah Smith – Review

Book Jacket:

Law Walker knew Katie Mullens before she was crazy. Before her mother died. Law knows Katie’s crazy now, but she’s always been talented. And she keeps filling sketch pads even though her drawings have gone a little crazy as well—dark, bloody. What Law doesn’t know is that these drawings are real. Or were real. Katie draws what she sees—and Katie sees dead people. People who have died—recently, and not so recently—in accidents, from suicide, even a boy who was trapped in a house that burned down more than 100 years ago. And it’s this boy who makes Law want to get to know Katie all over again. So what if his dad doesn’t want him dating a white girl? So what if people think Katie is dangerous? Together they’re about to uncover a piece of Boston history that is so shocking it was buried centuries ago, and now, nothing will ever seem the same. Get ready to see people—dead and alive—for who they really are.

You can read an excerpt here.


This book was a lovely surprise. The Other Side of Dark is not your typical YA ghost story, and it’s definitely not a rip-off of The Sixth Sense – more than anything this is a story about the different layers of history, and how they tangle with the present.

Now yes, there are ghosts in this book – and creepy ones at that – but these ghosts are wonderfully woven into the narrative as forceful witnesses to a forgotten past. As Law and Katie get caught up in the mystery surrounding a lost legacy, the ghosts are crucial to uncovering what happened.

Smith centers her story around the last monument to a famous man’s life, a crumbling mansion on the verge of being torn down, and how that house represents the duality of the man’s legacy. But even as she delves into slavery and reparations, Smith never over simplifies, never sermonizes, and never, ever paints things in black and white. And Smith doesn’t stop at slavery – this story touches on many other sensitive issues that most YAs are scared to touch (biracial relations, mental health, racial identity), but always in an intelligent and engaging way. This is not an issue book, nor a poorly disguised sermon – this is a story that delves into these themes purely from a character standpoint, as they affect the lives of Katie and Law. These issues lie at the heart of Law and Katie’s conflicts with (and within) their families, as both struggle to come to terms with their heritage.

You’ll have to allow me one quick sidebar rant – the cover of this book massively irritates me, as it comes nowhere near representing what this book is about. You have ghosts, a crumbling mansion, all sorts of scenes all over historic Boston, racial and family divides – why on earth would you choose an absolutely boring black cover with flames? I mean, yes, there is a fire in this story, but there’s also so much more – why would you package this like a bland, standard paranormal YA? Argh.

I’m not going to speak of the plot, so as to avoid spoilers, but I did get a little ahead of the mystery towards the end – there was something that was just a tad too obvious. But still, I was fully caught up in this story and I absolutely love the ways in which this book delves into histories both public and private. This is a story about how there is always another facet to something we think we fully understand, and the many ways people can disagree about the past.

In short, this book is a find. Historic Boston, creepy haunts, questions of identity, of heritage, and two very different families falling apart in very different ways – there is just so much substance to this story, so much good meaty emotional content to sink your teeth into. The Other Side of Dark definitely stands out from the crowd of paranormal YA.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Novel Novice says:

This book is gritty and raw and beautiful. It offers a powerful message within a well-told and engaging story. And perhaps most importantly, The Other Side of Dark shows you that things don’t have to be neat and pretty and tied with a bow in order to have a happy ending.

Books From Bleh to Basically Amazing says:

I like multicultural fiction, and have lately been making it a priority to read it more often. But, I didn’t pick up this book knowing that, not only were our narrators of different races, but that race was a huge factor into the story as a whole. When I started noticing how focused Law’s dad was on what it is the white man owes to the black man, I was a little worried. I don’t enjoy reading books that are political agendas lightly disguised as fiction, no matter what the agenda. However, I believe that Smith handled the topic beautifully. She met at the perfect median, where I understood Law, and to a lesser degree, his father, but I never once felt bludgeoned by one view point or another. The ideas of race and reparations are vital, not only to this particular story, but also to the growth and maturation of Law.

Fragments of Life says:

Bravo to Smith for coming up with this haunting and heart-melting debut. It was simply great: creepy, profound and unpredictable. At first, I found the pace a bit slow but as I reached the more supernatural part, I could not stop. From the first line, Smith captured my interest with Katie’s haunt. Sometimes I deliberated whether or not Katie was insane or she truly did see ghosts. I liked how I kept thinking throughout the novel.