Let me first explain that I am not part of the target demographic for Dark Territory. I picked this book for my teenage daughter to read, as she is in the targeted demographic. She read the first sentence and handed the book back to me. I decided to take on the challenge and read the book any way, knowing that it was not written for me. I have read a fair bit of young adult fiction. It’s my favorite kind of stories to read.
Dark Territory by J. Gabriel Gates and Charlene Keel is set in a fictitious Kansas town, Middleburg. If it were not for the references to Topeka, Kansas I would not have noticed or thought that this was set in Kansas. There is no recognizable Kansas look or feel to the setting. Yes, it is supposed to be fictitious but if it’s supposed to be set in Kansas shouldn’t it at least in some way feel like Kansas? This didn’t look or feel like any part of Kansas I know. When I realized that it was supposed to be in Kansas, I tried in my mind to picture it being set some where in the state, and it did not work for me.
The bigger problem I have with the story is the preposterous black and white, poor vs. rich environment that permeates the whole story. I just can’t buy that a town is so completely divided by socioeconomic lines that the inhabitants have to choose a side. It reminded me of the racial tensions of the 6o’s, without the historical relevance. It was like the stories given to the very young. People are good or bad. The bad guys wear black hats. The good guys wear white hats and have to go to the cleaners more often.
Most of the adults in Middleburg are very flawed. Some of them don’t seem to have enough redeeming qualities to make us want to get to know them. And for others, their redeeming quality is that they are parents. Mostly the story is for and about teens. Which is fine, but the teens are too simplistic. They are either good, bad, or life is unfair and their whole world reinforces that. There also isn’t room for the young people to learn and grow as young adults.
Speaking of unfair, in the middle section of the story an attempt is made to parallel the stories of the two martial art students of Master Chin. However, by the end the struggles or obstacles that they each face are not equal. Again, the rich kid has an easier road to follow.
The story follows several rival teens and switches from each of their stories. Other reviewers are quoted on the back cover how the book has the feel of a movie or that it would make a good movie. I suspect that this material might be better suited to the visual medium of a movie. I can see several parts of the book would be served well with the visual special effects of a movie. However, I encountered it in book form and in this form it fails to deliver the quality of story telling that I look for. While the time is spent following several of our main characters and seeing how each of their individual story lines weave into the whole story we never get to know much of the inner workings of any of the characters. That is one of the few gifts that a book has over a movie is that the reader has a chance to really get to know what makes a character tick and live in their world. I ended up feeling that most of the people in this world were less than genius material and I didn’t want to live in their world.
One of the main story lines is forbidden love between two of the teenagers. I couldn’t help but wonder if things changed in their world and their relationship were no longer forbidden if it hold the same appeal for these teens. There isn’t a single loving relationship in this story that is given more than a passing glance. Ignacio’s parents might have a normal loving marriage, but we never see enough of it to know. It seems that the only interesting relationships are those that are unhealthy or must, for various reasons, be secretive.
So, will teens like this book? Maybe. I think it’s too long, the characters are too simple, and too many things are just weird and not explained. The fight scenes move well. The love interest is fun. But, like I said, I am not the targeted demographic. So perhaps you should read it and let me know if I am squarely off target.