What’s a good fairy tale without a forest? Heroes wander in, either by mistake or in hopes of an adventure, get lost, meet fantastical creatures (benign or malicious) and emerge on the other side changed people, thanks to the wonders they have seen.
In A Walk in the Dark, the latest young adult novel from CBCA-acclaimed author Jane Godwin, five teenagers head into the Otway rainforest for an evening hike. While not a fairy tale (there are no mythical creatures to be found here), Godwin captures a sense of wonder and danger that’s found in so many traditional fairy tales. Part quest and part thriller, everything that can go wrong on their adventure, does, and sometimes quick-thinking and a cool head means the difference between life and death.
Forests have a certain mysterious quality, a natural beauty that makes them the perfect home for a benign spirit, and a darkness ideal for monsters to hide in. But the Otway rainforest has its own harsh splendour: woods of papery gum trees, the terrain rugged and uneven underfoot, the eerie birdsong of black cockatoos. The otherworldly light of the supermoon, followed by the supernatural might of a lightning strike. This isn’t a tame, storybook forest. Instead, Godwin celebrates the magic found in our own backyard, a rainforest that is wild and brimming with life.
A Walk in the Dark touches on a range of thorny topics; social justice, homophobia, neurodivergence, consent and trust, to name a few. These branch off into small subplots relating to each of the teenagers, but they never feel heavy-handed or unresolved. That’s due in part to the fantastic cast of well-rounded characters; there’s Elle, a natural leader who refuses to accept help from others; Ash, who always gives people the benefit of the doubt and is tired of being dismissed; Fred, who can match colours in the natural world to their exact Derwent pencil shade, but is so deeply angry; Laila, the epitome of tranquillity who holds her own darkness; and Chrystal, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of Peanuts trivia leaves her alienated. There’s something of The Breakfast Club about them, this rag-tag group of kids who would otherwise have never crossed paths.
A Walk in the Dark is perfect for 13 to 15-year-old adventurers and readers of Jane Godwin’s previous YA novel, As Happy as Here. Fans of John Hughes films and The Goonies will find much to enjoy in Godwin’s latest adventure.
Reviewed by Melina.