Sunday, June 3, 2012
Review: Dark Eyes by William Richter
Dark Eyes by William Richter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the second I first saw Dark Eyes, I knew we were going to be great friends. Everyone in the world liked the Millennium trilogy, so labeling this book as YA version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a smart move indeed… but fortunately, it’s not just a marketing trick, it has a grain of truth to it.
In her short sixteen years, Valentina Mayakova has lived three very different lives. Shortly after birth, she was abandoned at a Russian orphanage, where she spent her first few years, with no one but an affectionate cleaning lady to care for her properly. At five, she was adopted by a rich American couple and taken to New York, where she became Wallis Stoneman, a pampered, but aggressive and stubborn girl. By her fifteenth birthday, her parents were already divorced, and Wallis, angry and defiant, left her mother Claire for a life on the streets of New York. Her street family consists of three other people: Ella, Jake, and Trevin. One day, while trying to make a new fake ID, Wally accidentally discovers a letter from her birthmother, with a heartfelt note and a valuable stone, and starts looking for her real mother all over the city. But she’s not the only one looking: her real father has just escaped from a Russian prison and dragged her older brother Tiger to New York to find her mother and the rest of the stones.
Don’t you just love it when someone writes for young adults like they aren’t made of glass? When an author respects that teens can read about something very traumatic and not be overly traumatized themselves? I often think about how patronizing YA authors tend to be toward their audience, but William Richter does not pull back. In Dark Eyes, he doesn’t just gloss over the events that put those kids on the streets. We learn about Ella’s vicious stepfather who used to rape and photograph her until she finally couldn’t take it anymore. We get a glimpse of Jake’s story, his dead parents and sister, and the abuse he had to put up with from his cousins and state appointed guardians. We get to really learn the details about the beaten and murdered meth addict in the morgue. We get bloody action scenes, throats get cut, women get beaten almost to death, and all the while, there is a steady stream of profanities in Russian. (The fun part for me was that Russian and Croatian swear words are almost the same so I chuckled every time Klesko said something particularly juicy.)
Dark Eyes reminded me so much of a Hollywood action movie, which I suppose makes perfect sense since William Harlan Richter is a Hollywood screenwriter. I kept waiting for Bruce Willis to show up, barefoot and in a white sleeveless shirt, and shoot all those wicked Russian mobsters. He didn’t come, but he could have – he would have fit right in.
There is, of course, the small issue of predictability. I knew everything that was going to happen at least fifty pages before it did and I knew which characters were going to die the second they showed up. It didn’t really bother me, however, and I don’t think Richter was aiming to surprise. Dark Eyes is a thrill ride that uses gritty, realistic details of life on the streets to shock and captivate the reader. I hope there's a sequel in the works.