A compelling tale of redemption and tour-de-force YA debut, Ask the Dark is an absorbing first-person thriller about Billy Zeets, a 14-year-old semi-delinquent in a deadly tango with a killer.
“Ask the Dark will keep you up all night, and its flawed, real hero will haunt your day. I wish I’d written it.” —Michael Grant, New York Times best-selling author of Gone and BZRK
Billy Zeets has a story to tell. About being a vandal and petty thief. About missing boys and an elusive killer. And about what happens if a boy who breaks all the rules is the only person who can piece together the truth.
Gripping and powerful, this masterful debut novel comes to vivid life through the unique voice of a hero as unlikely as he is unforgettable.
“Ask the Dark is absolutely remarkable. Readers will line up for this one.”—Michael Cart, past president of YALSA and ALAN
I feel better now. I can move my arm some, and walk around a bit. Ache in my belly’s still there, but the doctor says it’ll go too. Says there’s almost nothing that can hurt a fifteen-year-old boy forever, and I’ll grow out of that pain like I grow out of a pair of old shoes.
Loads of people have asked me ’bout what happened. Police and doctors and just about everybody in the neighborhood. I never had so many visitors. Tell the truth, I’m tired of getting asked. I feel like just getting on with what’s happening now, and not thinking of what’s gone by. I want to answer everybody all at once and get it all the hell over with.
But there’s one big thing—where to begin.
Because you don’t know me.
Maybe you seen me on the streets walking around, or riding Old Man Pedersen’s bike if you was ever up at night. I mean that girls’ bike with the tassels on it. Or maybe you just seen me hanging round Shatze’s Pharmacy.
But really knowing me, few people do.
Sam Tate does. He’s a boy my age, and he said something true. He come up here to my room the other day and we talked, not just ’bout what happened, but ’bout other things too, things we did together before all this big mess. He was sitting near my bed, right there on the windowsill, looking out the window at the trees. Then he looked at me and said, The real thing is, you’d never have done it, never even found out about it, if you hadn’t done all the things people hated you for. It turns out those were the right things to do, Billy. Isn’t that funny? All that stealing and never going to school. It’s what made it so you were outside a lot, seeing things nobody else saw. Hidden and secret things.
He was dead-on right with what he said. I laughed. I saved three boys, so they tell me. Got beat and shot doin’ it. And Sam says I’d never of done it, ’cept I was always stealing and busting things, and creeping around people’s yards at night. That is funny.
But I s’pose it’s true.
I don’t ride that girls’ bike no more. Got a new one. There it is, leaning against the wall over there, bright and shiny. Got twenty-one gears, so I’m told. I’ll have to figure that out. How to use’m. Man that brought it was Jimmy Brest’s father, the Colonel, USMC. He wheeled it in, laughing and smiling. My daddy was with him a minute, then left and it was just the Colonel and me. And you know what he did? He come over to the bed and took my hand, and he called me the bravest boy he’d ever known, for what I done to save his son. He said I was a hero, and he was quiet a minute, and was almost gonna cry.
But that’s like everybody. It seems no matter who gets wind of what I done, from my sister or Sam Tate or one of them news shows on TV, they all start bawling their heads off. So I figure I best tell it myself and get things straight.
’Cause I don’t want to make nobody cry. ’Specially colonels, USMC.
The fact is, I ain’t no hero, and I aim to prove it. What I done, if I done anything, was get my daddy a fruit stand. See, my daddy was feeling bad and needed money and couldn’t do for hisself, so I done it. And to tell this right you gotta know about that, and other things too, like about us losing the house and what my sister done to get herself to be having a baby. You gotta know all that, ’cause if you do, everything else I say will make sense. Sort’f add up, know what I mean?
I ain’t hardly left my bed in four weeks, just hanging around my room. I couldn’t stand lookin’ out the window no more and seeing the days and nights come and go, I was goin’ crazy. So I got one of them video games. Hand-held. Sam Tate brought it. What you do with it is move this little monkey through a maze and traps. Monkey’s gotta jump and roll and bounce, and if he don’t make it he falls through a gap and you gotta start over. You use these little buttons to make him jump. Thing makes beeping noises. Plays a little tune if you do it right.
Can you imagine being that little monkey? Jumping and rolling all day? I kept thinking I was him, and I got so bothered by it, what with whipping my fingers all over it and my eyes jiggling, that I threw the damn thing out the window and heard it bust on the ground.
So now I’m in trouble again ’cause I got no idea what I’m gonna tell Sam Tate.
Since I busted that monkey game I got me a little TV, my daddy brung it up here to me. I started watching that all the time, and just this morning I saw something that explains pretty good why I decided to go ’head and tell all this. There was this talk show on, one with the big fat lady who always got guests on with problems like Welfare and drinking and drugs and whatnot, usually yelling and screaming and hitting each other right there on the show till cops come out and arrest’m, which I can’t say is real or not, or if they just getting paid money to say all them things. But this morning she had on a lady who went through cancer and divorce and all sorts of troubles, only to get rich decoratin’ folks’ houses, famous folks, after she was on her feet again. Anyway, this lady said that even on her darkest day, she always had her dream that kept her going when nothing else did.
Now that’s just like me. Just like me’n the fruit stand. ’Cause when all this was going on and I was trying to make all that money to save the house, I don’t think a day went by that I didn’t say to myself, I gotta get that fruit stand! Gotta get my daddy that damn fruit stand.
Scuze my language.
After the lady told ’bout her dream, she said one more thing. I liked it.
She said, If I did it, you can too!
That’s just how I feel. And that’s why I ain’t no hero. If I did it, you can too. ’Cause I ain’t better’n nobody.
So here goes.
Finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery
"Flawed but observant and courageous, Billy and his taut storytelling will engage readers of all stripes."
"Turner does a superlative job of developing the distinct and sonorous voice of a troubled teen. Teen fans of suspense, atypical protagonists, and thrillers will be engaged by this unique novel."
"Turner's debut exerts a strong pull, and Billy's is a real struggle with real consequences...a compelling, offbeat tale."
"Knowing from the first page that Billy survives his ordeal in no way detracts from the tension of his tale, and the gruesomeness of the murders...is harrowing...Billy’s closing remarks on the terror he’ll keep buried inside forever suggest that the Zeets’ turnaround has come at a high price."
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