Grade: B (nostalgia grading in effect)
Doing it at: n/a
Catnip: Deep Dark Secret; Mysteries; YA; Sleeping Beauty; Nostalgia; Hypothetical Sequels; Fan Fiction; ReRead
Shame Scale: No shame! You can read YA as a grown up if you want
Fantasy Cast: Matt Dillon circa 1989; Brooke Shields circa Blue Lagoon
Stacy wakes up in a hospital room, in a body she doesn’t recognize. Her mother is dead—murdered—and Stacy is recovering from a gunshot wound. She is the sole eyewitness to the crime, but she has only a shadowy memory of the killer’s face. Will Stacy be able to regain a clear memory of that fateful day before the killer reaches her?
The Other Side of Dark is one of Joan Lowery Nixon’s most intriguing, suspenseful, and dramatic mysteries.
I probably read The Other Side of Dark for the first time when I was around 14, that’s the age when I was devouring mysteries; Fear Streets, Christopher Pike, and Stephen King’s— along with heaping helpings of classics and V.C. Andrews. I was that kid who read EVERYTHING and all the time. Babysitting money was immediately turned into paperbacks, which I would devour at least one a day, every day. I remembered the actual plot of this one pretty well (I read it more than once, I read all the books more than once), but my brain thought the romance aspect loomed much larger than it actually does between Stacey and Jeff. So, I’m gonna tell you guys what actually happened, and then we are going to speculate a sequel! Because this is my blog and it sounded fun, ok? OK.
Joan Lowry Nixon books were always fabulous, because they’d take our heroine and place her in a situation where she both was and wasn’t herself. As a grown up I could write some sort of lofty thesis on the book’s themes paralleling the troublesome adolescence of teen girls. Struggling to find their place in a confusing world while sprouting boobs and trying not to get pregnant before graduation. I’m not going to do that though, I’m just going to tell you that I reread this in like two hours, and will be putting it away to share with teen girls of my own one day.
Our book opens with Stacey waking up in the hospital– she’s fuzzy on how she got there, she’s alone, and holy shit she has breasts! The last thing Stacey remembers she was 13, her mom was alive, and she was flat chested and going through her awkward stage. Stacey was shot by an intruder at her house, her mom was killed, and she’s been in a coma for four years. The world’s gone on without her: her friends have gone through puberty, her sister is married and knocked up. Poor addled Stacey is being referred to as Sleeping Beauty by reporters who are sneaking into the hospital, and being interrogated by police who want to know what she remembers. This is a four-year-old cold case, and Stacey is the only witness.
Stacey is trying hard to remember who shot her and her mother, but everything is super fuzzy. Her only absolutely clear memory is of a pair of cold eyes staring at her down the muzzle of a gun, and the feeling that she knew whoever did this to her. Other than that she has no clear memory of the shooter.
Despite being in a coma for years, and having some brain function issues, the doctors deem that Stacey is A-OK to go home with her father. And he deems that she’s A-OK to stay home by herself, in the house where this terrifying thing happened. And her neighbors deem that she’s A-OK to babysit their little girls, even though emotionally Stacey is still 13, and she’s more interested in playing with these girls than being in charge of them. Great thinking all around adults in Joan Lowry Nixon books, way to be on your A Game for this girl.
On top of trying to remember who murdered her mother right in front of her, Stacey is adjusting to how the world at large has changed in the four years she was unconscious. Like her sister brings her clothes to the hospital and Stacey is like “Why do you want me to wear this weird dress!”, and Donna is adamant that it isn’t weird, Stacey just doesn’t know the styles. This book was published in ’86, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the dress was weird. She’s also baffled by cold chicken pasta salad– when did pasta salad explode? Was it like 1983?
Once she’s home, and alone a good bit of the time, Stacey is justifiably paranoid, and when her best friend from BC -Before Coma – invites her to a party that some friends are throwing she’s scared/excited. She’s also scared/excited about the Boy with a Capital B that wants to meet her. Jeff goes to their school, he’s older and hot and muscled and mysterious. All the teenage girls think it’s a VERY BIG DEAL that Jeff wants to meet Stacey (who he says he saw in the newspaper and thought was pretty). You know who else wants to meet Stacey? This skeevy guy named Jerrod who is not so cute, and kind of weasley, and tries to get Stacey drunk at the party.
Jeff saves her, makes her feel things she doesn’t understand, and then starts sticking to her pretty closely. Jerrod is trying to hang out with Stacey too. Plus Stacey feels like someone is watching her, that prickly eyes on the back of your neck feeling that she can’t shake. And Jeff keeps showing up when Stacey calls for help, or needs help. She’s starting to worry that Jeff was the one who shot her, and killed her mother all those years ago. She’s increasingly terrified, and I remember being super creeped out when I read this twenty years ago (yes, TWENTY, I’m old OK). It was less creepy now, knowing that of course Jeff isn’t the bad guy. He’s an undercover cop ala 21 Jump Street, and he thinks Stacey is awfully cute.
The book ends with Jeff being all “I don’t want to be your first love, I want to be the REAL thing.” And there is no doing it. Here’s what I imagine happened:
Jeff and Stacey talked on the phone pretty often at first, there was innocent flirting and much talk of the distant and far away “future.” Then her senior year Stacey got a boyfriend her own age. She stopped calling Jeff, and he being a grown up let her have her space.
After all he was a grown ass man, with needs, he couldn’t just wait forever for this emotionally stunted high school girl to be ready for him. So he dated girls his own age and slept around. Slept around a lot. There wasn’t Tinder in the 90’s, but people met in actual bars and a smooth good-looking guy like Jeff never had any trouble getting a girl to invite him home. But he never got serious with anyone, because he was holding a piece of his heart for Stacey, whether he knew it or not.
For her part, Stacey went to the University of Texas A&M, majoring in law and really dedicated to her studies. Stacey isn’t a party girl, she dates occasionally, studious boys in her law classes who never try to take more than she’s willing to give out. She lost her virginity in quiet, unspectacular fashion to a nice boy from Missouri her sophomore year. She’s not sure what all the fuss is about and wonders if she missed out on some part of normal growing up while she was in a coma. Like maybe her heart (and hormones) just don’t function like everyone elses’.
Stacey moves back to her home town after law school, and gets a job as a county prosecutor, on her first big case the cop who she is sent to take a deposition from is Jeff. They recognize each other right away, both are trying to be professional in the tiny county interview office. Sitting across from each other at the scarred wooden table, all “just the facts ma’am.” But sparks are flying and soon Jeff lunges across the table and pulls Stacey in for a kiss. He remembers to throw his blazer over the camera in the corner of the room before he unzips her sensible navy sheath.
They live happily ever after.
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