Small, David. Home After Dark: A Novel. Liveright, 2018. 416p. ISBN: 9780871403155. $27.95 OT ****
After his mother abandons the family, thirteen year old Russell Pruitt is dragged out to California by his hopeless father. When his well-to-do aunt makes it clear that she is not interested in helping them make it in southern California they make their way north, stopping in Marshtown where they are able to rent a room from a Chinese couple. Russell’s alcoholic father eventually secures a job teaching English at San Quentin. And left to his own devices Russell falls in with a group of boys, one whom is a particularly vicious bully. Russell’s summer hits a new low when soon after moving to their own place he is abandoned again, this time by his father. Rescued by the Chinese family that rented his father a room Russell must face many uncomfortable truths about growing up.
Sparsely worded with expressive illustrations, Home After Dark conveys the cruelty of youth in a stark and realistic way. Abandonment, alienation, and the guilt that festers when you choose to be a bystander are some of the difficult experiences detailed by Small in this coming of age story. The side plot of an animal murderer might disturb some, and drawings of post coital sex make this a book inappropriate for middle school shelves.
Carla Avitabie, San Mateo Public Library