Malinda Lo’s A Line in the Dark starts off as a young adult novel with a fairly normal plotline. Girl is gay, girl is in love with best friend, best friend is oblivious, best friend starts dating someone else, girl is hurt and tension ensues. Now here’s where things get a bit complicated: girl’s best friend’s girlfriend’s best friend goes missing. Now all three girls are involved in a missing persons case with a plot twist ending that no one will expect.
Lo has been nominated for several awards including the Andre Norton Award for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy. She was also listed on the Kirkus Best Books for Children and Teens list in the year 2009. In 2014, Lo’s novel entitled Inheritance won the Bisexual Book Awards for Bisexual Teen/Young Adult Fiction. Her other novels and series all center around LGBTQ+ youth as main characters who are trying to find their way through the world. As a queer writer, Lo feels that it is important for young adults to see themselves represented in the books they read. In 2012, Lo began the yearly process of publishing an analysis of the diversity in young adult novels. In 2016, only 79 books featuring LGBTQ+ characters were published. The lack of representation and diversity in young adult books is the reason Lo started Diversity in YA, which is a website and annual book tour dedicated to bringing attention to diverse representations in literature for young adults.
A Line in the Dark not only exhibits Lo’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community with its characters but also happens to be a page-turner. The narrative opens toward the end of summer in Bedford, MA and takes the reader on a journey that lasts a little under a typical school year. While the opening at first appears light-hearted — just two girls spending Friday night at the local ice cream parlor — the quiet observations of the main character create a dark tone that underlies the fun everyone is seeming to have. The Bedford area is also heavily wooded, which adds to the weighty atmosphere. As the book moves forward, the chapters grow shorter and shorter, creating a sense of urgency. The characters are never completely honest — which is designed to amp the reader’s anxiety. No matter the situation, these characters will never tell the whole truth, so follow what they’re saying very closely. Maybe you’ll be able to predict the ending.
Jess, the main character, is a typical loner stereotype who keeps to herself, only has one friend and likes to get lost in her nerdy passion of choice: creating comics. However, as the plot progresses, Jess becomes a more complex character who regularly hides her deeper feelings in the panels of her comics. While the chapters in which Jess describes her comics might superficially seem like filler, they are integral to the story. The panels of her comics are parallel to the events that occur within the book, often showing how things could be different or what could happen next. The fictional school and town she creates are eerily similar to Bedford and the private school in which she finds herself spending a lot of time in. Her heroine resembles her best friend, Angie, while her sidekick is clearly an alternate version of herself. The choices her characters make sometimes influence the real life choices that Jess will eventually make. Through them, the reader is allowed insight into her inner feelings and thoughts that are usually hidden when other characters are present.
The overlying plot of A Line in the Dark is perfect for teens wanting to read more LGBTQ+ literature or even for teens with an open mind and a penchant for a wild plotline. It is a refreshing take on the closeted teen narrative typically seen in young adult novels today. Neither Jess nor her best friend Angie’s parents bats an eye when they realize that they may never marry men. Margot is even hailed as a hero on her high school campus for coming out. In this way, the book is a bit unrealistic in my opinion in that it suggests these girls can even be so openly gay in rich northeastern suburbia. A Line in the Dark is a ‘contemporary mystery’ because it preserves the classic whodunit element of a typical mystery while weaving in modern themes that make it relatable to a young adult audience. With the exception of the missing persons case, the problems that these girls face are all very real. Nothing is exaggerated, not even the petty drama. Lo does a wonderful job of writing from a teenage point of view without it seeming obnoxious or trite. However, I would like to give a piece of advice to a future reader. While Jess is the most trustworthy, make sure to keep an eye on her. She’s very observant and will always know a bit more than she lets on.