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Darkside by Tom Becker

y Tom Becker

Publishing Information: Orchard Books: New York, 2008
ISBN: 9780545037396
: 304 p.
Ages: 10 & Up

Jonathan’s home has been attacked, and his father is in an asylum. He finds secret messages from his father that lead him to the Darkside of London, a dangerous place ruled by Jack the Ripper’s children. Will he be able to survive the evil and his worst nightmares?

Book Talk:
Scholastic Booktalk
Jonathan's life changes when he leaves the safety of his London home for the Darkside, where vampires and werewolves are real.

Jonathan knew his life wasn't normal, he just didn't know why. Other kids had mums and dads, and perhaps brothers and sisters, and they talked and laughed and did things together. Other kids had friends to hang out with, go to the movies, share secrets and stories. Jonathan didn't have any of that. His father was cold and distant, hardly ever speaking to his son. He got angry when Jonathan asked about his mother, and every so often he'd go into a coma, and had to stay in a mental hospital until he woke up, with no way to predict when that would happen.  Once it was six months before he woke up. And when he was awake, he spent most of his time in his study, with the door locked. Jonathan had never even glimpsed what was inside. 

All that changed when one of Alain's spells came on so fast, he didn't have time to lock the door before he passed out. That night, Jonathan saw the open door about the same time he realized there was a stranger in the house. He barricaded himself behind the study's locked door, a door that had long, deep scratches on it, left by the intruder. The next day, Jonathan explored the study, finding old books on history or political science, diaries, journals, poetry-all of them dusty and deadly boring. Some of them had bookmarks or marked passages, all mentioning something about darkness or darkening. Alain had also scribbled notes to himself on scraps of paper, and since he'd dated them, Jonathan was able to put them into order. The most recent one was dated two days earlier, the day before his dad's last spell.  It said, "A crossing?  Surely I must be close now." Below that was a book title-The Darkest Descent-with a page number and a library call number.

The book was written by a famous Victorian explorer, and the page Jonathan was looking for was about the man's search for the darkness in the heart of London, talking to the most shameful and lowest creatures in the city. He finally found someone who would show him the gateway to the darkness, under the Blackfriars Bridge. That had to be the crossing his father had been looking for, and Jonathan knew he had to find it.

But getting to the Darkside wasn't easy, and Jonathan didn't know what to do when he got there. He had only one name – Carnegie - someone supposed to have been his father's friend. Unfortunately, Jonathan meets him on the night of the full moon, when he's not a man, but a beast.

This booktalk was written by university professor, librarian, and booktalking expert Joni Richards Bodart.

Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Bounty Hunters
Good versus Evil
Mental Illness

Awards & Reviews:
Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize, 2007

Booklist, February 1, 2008, p. 39
Kirkus Review, January 1, 2008
School Library Journal, May 1, 2008, P.119

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. How do the events and characters in the Prologue prepare the reader for the “nightmare” that follows?
  2. How would you describe Jonathan’s relationship with his father, Alain Starling?
  3. In what specific ways has Mrs. Elwood helped Jonathan cope with his father’s illness?
  4. What startling discoveries does Jonathan make while exploring his father’s study?
  5. Jonathan seeks out a book entitled The Darkest Descent at the British Library. Why is this book important to Jonathan?
  6. Jonathan meets a woman named Marianne at the library. How does she frighten Jonathan? Has she appeared earlier in the book?
  7. How and why must Jonathan locate his father’s old friend, Carnegie?
  8. Describe the characters that inhabit the Darkside.
  9. How does Jonathan manage to travel between the Lightside and Darkside of London?
  10. How much background knowledge does a reader need to appreciate this story? How much information would you provide about Jack the Ripper, Victorian London, and modern day London, England?
  11. What other cities might provide an appropriate setting for a story such as Darkside?

Related Websites:
Author’s Website:
Casebook: Jack the Ripper:
Scholastics site for the book:

Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick, 2006 (2007 RITBA Nominee)
by Alex Shearer, 2008
Dance of the Assasins
by Herve Jubert, 2004
The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, by Chris Wooding, 2004 (2007 RITBA Nominee)
Molly & Poo by Terry Moore, 2005
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
by David Farkland, 2008
Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools
by Philip Caveney, 2008
The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott, 2008

Other Books by the Author:
Darkside: Lifeblood (Book 2), 2008
Darkside: Nighttrap (Book 3), 2008
Darkside: Timecurse (Book 4), 2009

About the Author:
Tom Becker has loved books his entire life; he’s 25 years old. Since he was five he has wanted to become a writer. His parents, “voracious readers” themselves, filled their home with books and encouraged Tom to read. As a child he enjoyed fantasy novels, especially those written by Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall Series. He studied history at Oxford University. 

Tom spent three months writing Darkside.  He is a big fan of music and football (soccer in the USA).  He makes his home in England.
| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair