Review: Darkness All Around by Doug Magee (Trigger Warning: Suicide)

Publication Date: October 18, 2011

Eleven years ago, Risa lost her best friend and her alcoholic husband in the same week. Her best friend was murdered and her husband disappeared, leaving her with a young child and a broken life.

Now, her ex-husband has reappeared with a head injury and wild claims that he killed Risa's best friend. Remarried, Risa is unsure of how to take this information, and if her feelings for her ex-husband are affecting her trust in him.

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Date Read: Dec 26, 2017

I started this back in October as my book for Zoe's 24-Hour Readathon, and I think I read about 40 pages before I just couldn't continue on with the book anymore. I set it aside and read other things as I slowly read a page or two here and there. Finally, when winter break started, I told myself that I had to finish this book during break, and that it had to be done before 2017 was over. So, one night, I sat in my room and just kept reading until I got to the end of the book.

This is by no means a good book. I have no idea why or how they got R.L. Stine to blurb this, but they did. The book does not deserve a blurb from R.L. Stine, because this is quite possibly one of the worst mysteries I have ever read. It felt on par with most of the crappy YA mysteries I've tried over the years, and honestly, I'm really proud of myself for making it through the book.

Let me start by saying that the POVs are a complete mess. It's not uncommon for there to be multiple POVs in the same chapter, which would be fine if there were clear divisions, but there aren't. Often times, I would be reading from Person A's POV, then be reading from Person B's POV in the following sentence/paragraph. It felt like there was little to no editing done to the book, and that the author, Magee, just threw in whatever he felt was necessary at that point in the story. Not only was this incredibly confusing, it was also incredibly annoying.

There were several instances throughout the book where I felt offended by what I was reading. The author describes one character as having a Fu Manchu beard, and afterward, consistently refers to this character as "Fu" until his name is revealed. Why is this problematic? Firstly, this character is not Asian, and this is an appropriation of a Chinese name. Secondly, rather than introducing the character by a proper name, Magee continues to use "Fu" for at least three more chapters.

Alongside this character, we are introduced to someone named "Hon," and only learn later that it's not her real name. We see that "Hon" is speaking because that is what "Fu" calls her, and therefore, her real name isn't used. As a woman, I felt offended that Magee was introducing us to this character by a nickname that she clearly never actually used, rather than just giving us her name.

Even after we finally learn the characters' real names, the book still refers to them as "Fu" and "Hon." As an Asian, I am offended that Magee appropriated the use of "Fu Manchu" as a name for someone who merely has the beard, and otherwise has no connection to the Chinese culture. There are better temporary names than ones that would be offensive.

Also within the book are numerous mentions of mental illness, suicide, and addiction. This wouldn't be a problem if it had been done well, but it was very poorly handled. Magee himself admits in an interview at the end of the book that he didn't do any research on the mental illnesses he portrayed in the book because he claims that the technical side can interfere with what he's trying to bring across, as well as that his experiences with people who have MI that he talks about are his sources. Look, I know this was written in 2011 and that the publishing industry wasn't as particular about these topics back then, but still, it's unacceptable that the author did NO RESEARCH on the mental illnesses he chose to talk about in the book. That's not only unfair to people who actually experience those particular MIs, but it's also just insensitive. Any time MI is portrayed in a book, there should be some amount of research, especially when it plays a bigger role like it did in this story.

There are no trigger warnings for suicide (even though the book was written in 2011, there should have been some warning as suicide it talked about repeatedly), and the suicide attempt of one of the characters is taken rather lightly. In fact, the suicide attempt was more a plot device to reveal something. It was really insensitive on Magee's part.

Finally, the ending felt way too convenient. Magee reveals in the same interview at the end of the book that he does little plotting and just writes until he comes to an ending. It was really clear that he's a panster, mostly because the ending made little sense. There were no hints previously that what we get in the end is even possible. No, in the last 50 pages, we get a convenient clue that suddenly solves everything. Once again, MI is involved in the ending, but it was such a cop-out for an actual answer. It felt more like Magee didn't know what to do, so he threw in a stereotype of a MI and called it a finished book. I couldn't believe that we were expected to be okay with the ending.

Risa, the main character, was really annoying the entire time. I couldn't figure out what she actually did, though it seemed like she ran a diner and maybe taught or took a class in Philly once in awhile. She also didn't bother listening to other people when they gave good advice. It was really annoying to follow her around for so much of the book.

Pretty much everyone else in the book was really annoying too. I didn't like a single character, and none of them felt like they had any redeemable qualities. Most of them were pure jerks and self-centered, corrupt people.

2 stars. I definitely don't recommend this to anyone. It's not worth you time - there are much better things to be reading.

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