BY SEAN CLARK
2009, iUniverse, Inc.
This book is a hard one to categorize, as it’s not really horror until the very end, and it’s less young adult than it is sophomoric. What it is is a somewhat valiant attempt at a novel by a clearly untrained author. A small-run indie book riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, Dark Innocence struggles to pace itself or properly establish narrative tension. It does however, have a fair amount of heart, and I must admit I found myself engaged and compelled to finish it as I was reading.
Cisco is a young Oakland delinquent. He prides himself on his skill as a graffiti writer (he designates a “writer” as an artist, while a “tagger” merely vandalizes), but the art he creates while running with his crew is mostly relegated to drunken tagging of dilapidated buildings and vehicles. A short stint in juvenile hall awakens in him, he proclaims, a wish to be good and to live a life which his single immigrant mother can be proud of. He also claims his eyes opened to his true love, Erika, his abstinent and bookish girlfriend.
Of course, just moments out of juvie, Cisco breaks about 10 laws, and beds a random girl in a stolen truck, then his sleeping mother’s house. Most interesting about this is the attitude the character, and indeed–it can can be inferred easily–the author takes on this: that it is okay, and that Cisco is still good at heart. There is a rebellious teenage naïveté that oozes though the narration, and I found myself both chuckling at and admonishing it.
After about three quarters of the short book, we are still wandering to hood parties and meeting new characters. Finally, Cisco convinces some of his friends to join him on his holy grail graffiti mission: a giant abandoned mall visible from the highway. They break in and get high and drunk, then they wander the ruins tagging walls and narrowly escaping falling through holes in the floor to their deaths.
At this point, the narrator has already told us that not all the teens will survive the trip to the mall, but be warned I’m going to come close to spoiling the ending–if that bothers you, skip to the next paragraph. I was pretty sure this was going to result in an easily avoidable accident, from which the book would kick into evangelical overdrive and decry the wanna-be-gangster lifestyle for a wholesome life of goodness and Christ. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and though what did was absolutely silly and unfitting, it pretty much saved the book for me. I won’t give it all away, but it takes an 80’s slasher twist that is so laughable it is enjoyable.
All in all Dark Innocence is a pretty broken and unpolished work, a thinly-veiled memoir with some obvious fictional points added. However it does do a nice job of capturing the mentality of early-90s SoCal Nor Cal teens, and has a charming pathos. The ending was a hoot, even if it was hard to take seriously. So while I usually prefer my books literary and professionally edited, I’m glad I read this, even if only because it brought me back to the days of comically poor workshop novels, for which you can’t fault the author for the effort.
Similar Reads: A Young Girl’s Crimes (Rehak)