Darkness can be a frightening thing, but always there is the hope of morning to cling to, bright sunlight pressing through glass, warm and welcoming.
Darkness is always displaced by light and fear displaced by love, as Marlo Schalesky well knows. In her latest book, Beyond the Night, the author patches together the story of Maddie Foster and Paul Tilden through a series of interlaced moments, past and present. In less skilled hands, those disparate pieces would make the story choppy and unwieldy. Not so here.
Schalesky handles them masterfully and treats her readers to a truly surprise ending.
Maddie Foster is a bright and amiable young woman in the prime of life going about her days in Palo Alto, California, a student at Stanford University with dreams of medical school cresting the horizon, playing racquetball with her best friend, Paul Tilden, praying with friends Kelli, Marisol, and Ryan, and enjoying the ability to see as well as hear. She and Paul's friendship is a strong one, and it is he
who is beside her as she begins her journey into darkness that has no end, the victim of a genetic disease called Stargardt's. Maddie struggles with herself, her mother, her faith and her personal relationships as the darkness grows and she is forced to learn to live blind, though refusing to accept fully what is happening to her. Her anger propels her into risky situations, but always her friend Paul is close at hand, supportive though not necessarily realistic about his own feelings or motives. Maddie's mother,
upon learning that her daughter has not dodged the genetic bullet that has plagued their family for generations, ramps up her protectiveness and soon takes charge of Maddie, who struggles against her. The tension between them grows until long-closeted secrets are subjected to the light of truth and Maddie's life takes a more positive turn. Those once lost are found again.
Paul Tilden is a young medical researcher driven by the unfairness of life.
Having lost his earlier love, Samantha, to leukemia, he focuses his life on learning the secrets of the disease and finding a cure. In the meantime, he meets Maddie, and they begin a warm and mutually-giving friendship with possibilities for more, obvious to everyone but them at first. As Paul and Maddie go out on excursions they call NADs
- not-a-date events - their affections for one another grows. Neither is looking for anything serious, it would seem, but their attitudes and actions show they've already made a lasting commitment to each other. Paul's sometimes corny humor and the humorous banter and teasing between them show just how increasingly uneasy they are with the feelings that are developing. But it takes two near tragic events to get their attention.
The story of Maddie's journey into darkness is the backlight, if you can call it that, to the real story, one of friendship growing casually into love, of the importance of faith during difficult times, and of the healing power of truth. Beyond the Night is a simple truth that readers will truly enjoy. The Reader's Guide included at the back of the book makes this a nice addition to a book discussion group;
the questions there will certainly foster discussion. For creativity, structure, pace, and the ability to hold the reader's attention, I'm happy to give Beyond the Night five stars.