Author: Jessica Huntley
Publication Date: 2 April 2021
Available As: Paperback and e-book
Amber and her four best friends are about to reach their teenage years when the unthinkable happens; one of her friends, Kieran, is killed in a freak accident. Twenty years later, Amber no longer speaks to her friends and is still haunted by that day in the form of severe psychological issues, including sleep paralysis, insomnia and hallucinations of a terrifying entity she calls The Creature. But it isn’t just in her head; it is real. Unbeknown to Amber, her former friends have also been suffering from their own psychological nightmares, each trapped and twisted into people they no longer recognise. Then a piece of evidence is found from that day and Amber and her former friends are forced to relive the events leading up to Kieran’s death, learning truths along the way that they would rather not know about themselves. Can they work together to rid themselves of their demons and find out what really happened to Kieran all those years ago?
I was provided with an advanced copy of The Darkness Within Ourselves, the debut novel by a good friend of mine, Jessica Huntley. The Darkness Within Ourselves is the story of four childhood friends changed forever when one of their friends tragically dies and an exploration of how the guilt and fallout from that incident came to change and, in many cases, destroy their friendships and their lives.
Our main protagonist is Amber, who suffers from severe nightmares and sleep paralyses and finds herself haunted by a terrifying entity she calls “The Creature”. Though her daily life is kept busy and relatively happy thanks to her young daughter, she carries a tremendous amount of guilt and has partially suppressed many of her memories of that fateful day. Her best friend, Brooke, has been effectively house-bound for nearly twenty years and is so crippled by agoraphobia that she can’t even bare to see the outside world, much less venture out into it. Tyler, once the strong, commanding leader type, has descended into a spiral of self-destruction and depression, while Jordan, Amber’s childhood sweetheart, lashes out in bouts of extreme rage and anger. Ever since the death of their friend, each has grown apart and seen their hopes and dreams ruined after vowing to never real the truth about what happened, which has driven a wedge between them and left them traumatised shells of their former selves.
Each is forced to relive the events of that day, and their part in it, in their own way when evidence of their friend’s death is finally unearthed and, by coming together, forced to confront their worst fears that are brought to a very tangible life through the author’s words. The extreme emotions of guilt, fear, depression, and anger are rendered in a near-physical form, causing each to suffer physically and mentally in their own way, and the way the author brings these elements to the forefront with an almost supernatural quality is commendable.
Additionally, much of the book’s emphasis is how people change from naïve and carefree children to more weathered, cynical adults; even when they have things to focus on, such as a child or a job, their lives are tinged by the shadow of not only that day but just the malaise and monotony of adult life. As a kid, you think you’re indestructible, like the world is never going to end, and the idea of being a grown-up is laughable and then, the next thing you know, you’re kind of stuck in a rut or you’re responsible for a child and have boring things to think about like bills and work. Huntley captures a lot of this very well, with a lot of these issues directly juxtaposed to the guilt and trauma each character feels from that day.
To be fair, The Darkness Within Ourselves is not really the sort of book I would read but that’s mainly because, for a PhD student and a reader/writer, I’m surprisingly not that well-read and tend to stick to the genres I enjoy. However, the author’s descriptions of depression, sleep paralysis, agoraphobia, and irrational anger make this an intriguing tale; clearly, this is a story that is very dear to the author’s heart and there are a lot of interesting, distinctive characters at work in the book and some subtle undertones carried through as well (a hint of mystery is prevalent, of course, but there’s also hints towards characters not being truly honest with each other and the true nature of people that is often hidden behind out everyday veil).
It’s not especially long so it’s easy to breeze through on an afternoon but, for such a brisk tale, it never really wastes its time and makes good use of its structure to delve into the present and the past from each character’s perspective. The infusion of almost supernatural and horror elements really helps to make the tale, and the torment of its characters, all the more tangible and ominous and it’s clear (to me, at least) that the author has clearly done her research into these phenomena or even experienced of them herself, at some point, making The Darkness Within Ourselves a cathartic tale of loss and acceptance but also a vivid deconstruction of just how awful such conditions can be.
If you’re interested in checking out The Darkness Within Ourselves, and to learn more about Jessica Huntley and her journey as an author, visit the links at the top of the page.