Title: White Space
Author: Ilsa J. Bick
Series: Dark Passages #1
Genre: YA Horror
Summary (from Goodreads)
Seventeen-year-old Emma Lindsay has problems: a head full of metal, no parents, a crazy artist for a guardian whom a stroke has turned into a vegetable, and all those times when she blinks away, dropping into other lives so ghostly and surreal it’s as if the story of her life bleeds into theirs. But one thing Emma has never doubted is that she’s real.
Then she writes “White Space,” a story about these kids stranded in a spooky house during a blizzard.
Unfortunately, “White Space” turns out to be a dead ringer for part of an unfinished novel by a long-dead writer. The manuscript, which she’s never seen, is a loopy Matrix meets Inkheart story in which characters fall out of different books and jump off the page. Thing is, when Emma blinks, she might be doing the same and, before long, she’s dropped into the very story she thought she’d written. Trapped in a weird, snow-choked valley, Emma meets other kids with dark secrets and strange abilities: Eric, Casey, Bode, Rima, and a very special little girl, Lizzie. What they discover is that they–and Emma–may be nothing more than characters written into being from an alternative universe for a very specific purpose.
Now what they must uncover is why they’ve been brought to this place–a world between the lines where parallel realities are created and destroyed and nightmares are written–before someone pens their end.
Where to start with this one?
That sounds negative: not my intention.
White Space is a bit of a brain bender. As disarming and disorienting as the magical snow storm the characters find themselves in the centre of, you spend most of the book thinking: ‘So, what exactly is going on here?’
Something which has not changed by the very end of the novel.
I like Ilsa J. Bick, and I like her writing. I very much enjoyed Ashes, despite the second half going in a direction totally opposite to the first half. And I think my knowledge of that enjoyment, and the trust it engendered, meant I stuck with this where other people might give up. Because it’s not easy. I was so confused most of the time, I didn’t know wether I was coming or going. And that’s the point of the whole thing, really.
White Space draws its horror primarily from the idea that our whole lives could be not what we think they are, and the psychological consequences of finding that out. It’s a lot to do with nightmares, and how we’re responsible for our nightmares, and it’s a lot to do with how those nightmares give us our identity. And that’s a kind of scary rabbit hole once you start going down it. The characters are assaulted by their own worst nightmares, and they’re powerless to imagine themselves elsewhere, even though they know their nightmares are being imagined into life by themselves, and there are often horrific consequences.
Bick takes unabashed inspiration from films like The Matrix and Identity. So much so that she labours the point a bit through constant references. A shame really – as a subtle nod would have had readers who’ve seen those films thinking ‘oh, I think I know where this might be going’ but, as it stands, probably runs the risk of alienating readers who haven’t seen them, leaving them wondering if they need to be complicit in the reference to fully understand the narrative.
That said, this was still a really enjoyable read, and though I’m not desperate for the next instalment (the ending was a LOST-esque nothing that didn’t promise answers but further questions) if I saw it in the library or offered up for review, I’d definitely pick it up. Just for the strange pleasure of not having a clue what’s going on, but enjoying it all the same.