Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick

draw the dark

Rating: 5 stars

(Please NOTE: This is a reprint of a 2011 review)

“Draw the Dark” by Ilsa J. Bick is an unusual book for young adults. It’s a combination of historical fiction, psychological fiction, fantasy and mystery all rolled up into one very interesting read.

The protagonist, Christian, is a different kind of kid. He has few friends, the townspeople think he’s odd, and — worst of all — he thinks he’s almost a kind of monster. Because he thinks he caused the death of his second grade teacher and his aunt (and perhaps he did), he suffers emotionally.

Christian also doesn’t sleep well. While he is sleeping and dreaming, he is actually doing things — sleepwalking? Or acting as a conduit for a boy who lived half a century ago? He paints, he defaces barns, he draws, all while asleep. Christian gets his opportunity to find out about the mysterious images that he depicts and that he sees in his dreams when his class begins a history project on their town, Winter.

Winter is a town based on the real town of Kohler, Wisconsin. Its origins go back to 1918 when John Kohler build a large dormitory for the European immigrants who came to Wisconsin to work at his plumbing factory. The dormitory offered a pub, cafeteria, bowling alley, barbershop and classrooms for English and citizenship lessons.

In “Draw the Dark,” the foundry owner has brought Europeans (mainly Germans) to work at his factory. Most of the families in town owe their livelihoods to Eisenmann, the founder of the factory and the source of income for the town.

What happens to Christian, and the events he begins to investigate, uncover a series of mysteries. What happened to the Jewish population that existed in the town fifty years ago? There were enough Jewish families to support a synagogue which also has disappeared.

Why is Christian remembering, as the young boy David, the arrival of German prisoners into the town and the discord that their arrival brings?

What happened to the father of David, the boy whom Christian “channels” when sleeping and at inopportune moments while awake. It turns out he was a fairly well-known artist who disappeared after a murder.

Why is there the remains of a baby encased in the mortar of a third-floor bedroom in the local mansion? Who was the mother, and why was the baby hidden?

And most of all, the questions nearest and dearest to Christian’s heart — where did his mother and father go? He believes that it was to a “sideways” place, an alternate universe or existence that he dreams about. He longs to find them, save them and bring them back. Although his Uncle Hank is a wonderful and loving caregiver, Christian knows in his heart that his parents need his help.

The author draws out the story, slowly giving the reader clues about what has happened and what will happen. As in much good literature, things are not what they appear to be and people are not who they appear to be.

Bick comments, “…I think the best horror, mystery, and dark fantasy must have some psychological depth. Otherwise, you might as well put in stick figures and move them around. The characters shouldn’t be interchangeable, and nothing’s as dark as what the human imagination can dream up.”

Well, in Draw the Dark none of the characters are interchangeable and the story is dark, yet there is light at the end. As the psychiatrist tells Christian, prophetically, “There’s also the light. Call it soul, call it God’s light, call it the human spirit, call it hope. It doesn’t matter what you call it. The only thing that matters is this. The light is here…The light is power, and that power is love, and love is strong.

Ironically, what saves Christian from a crazed killer is the light, the light coming from the sideways place where his mother is. And Christian says at the end, “Because love is poweful and love is strong, strong enough to bridge time and space…and worlds.

So is the light a reflection of his mother’s love? Is that why it saved him in his time of need? Those are just a few of the questions that Bick leaves the reader to ponder.

And once the book is finished, the thoughtful reader will go back for the clues that were there, laid out as plain as black ink on white paper — clues about Eisenmann, about the artist and his family, and about what happens to Christian when he “draws” the dark from people.

Is a sequel possible? It’s not in the works now, Bick says. But she doesn’t discount one eventually. It’s just that there are so many other books demanding to be written. Just like the pictures demanding that Christian draw them…hmmmm.

This review was based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

One thought on “Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick

  1. Pingback: Drowning Instinct by Ilsa J. Bick | PamelaKramer.com

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