I’m Not Supposed to Be in the Dark
by Riss M. Neilson
Releasing on May 9th, 2023
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Young Adult Fiction—Fantasy > Magical Realism, Romance, Paranormal
From the author of Deep in Providence comes a paranormal young adult romance that follows a teen convinced that her best friend–turned-enemy is possessed by a ghost, perfect for fans of White Smoke and Twilight.
Seventeen-year-old Aria Cayetano dreams of ghosts. She used to see them too, but thanks to a special tea brewed by her grandfather, Aria’s connection to the spirit world has been severed. Until a decades-old rosebush suddenly dies across the street, convincing Aria that something supernatural is happening in her neighborhood.
She aches to investigate it, but the rosebush sits on her ex-best friend Derek Johnson’s front lawn, and she can’t question him because he hates her now. Aria doesn’t know what drove them apart years ago, but she does know Derek’s been acting strange for weeks, sneaking out in the dead of night to who knows where.
Then, days after the rosebush dies, Derek begins speaking to her again. At least Aria thinks it’s him. Until she discovers there’s a ghost inside of Derek that will take his life if it doesn’t find what it’s searching for. As Aria and Derek race to uncover the mystery, another kind of magic takes them by surprise: love. But Aria has to decide how far she’s willing to go to save Derek, especially when helping the ghost means tapping into whatever the tea has buried inside of her.
Bone-chilling and spellbinding, I’m Not Supposed to Be in the Dark is an alluring ghost story that’s about exorcising the past to find a future to believe in.
Trigger/Content Warning(s): Possession (of a person), Underage Drinking (minor scene), Death, Near-Death Experiences (mentioned), Unknown Drugging (using plant-based remedies), Threat(s)—please note this list is subject to change, as it is made from my memory after reading.
Disclaimer: I was provided a digital galley via NetGalley for the purpose of reviewing. This does not affect my opinion.
I’m Not Supposed to Be in the Dark is a magical, beautifully agonizing novel. This book will sweep you under a spell and hold your hand as it plays on your emotions.
Riss M. Neilson showcases her brilliant and awe-inspiring writing style and craft, once more, in her sophomore book. It was easy to fall into the story, become entranced, and feel as though you were watching it from just over Aria—the main character’s—shoulder. This book was very clearly and noticeably filled with heart, emotion, passion—so many things that jump out at and file into the reader while reading.
Neilson has incredibly strong character development. Aria is the sole main character in Dark, and she is as lively and thought-provoking as she appears on page one. Filled with curiosity and the realization that something is amiss in her world and some of the people surrounding her, she is forced to face a lot of hard and hidden or stolen truths throughout the book. Her growth from beginning to end was well-written and beautifully done. At the start, Aria was a bit rash and impulsive about the things she wanted to know and do—and while that is not necessarily a bad thing, it sometimes left bad repercussions on the people she loved. As she came to understand this, the noticeable shift in how she goes about her actions and inquiries made her character stronger and showcased a sense of maturing that was necessary for her story.
The side characters were easy to adore, as well. Derek, as well as the spirit possessing him, became easy favorites. Two completely different personalities, and even then, they often complimented each other at different points of the plot. Along with this, Aria’s mother, grandfather and best friend Bri all had strong grips in the storyline, as well. While some of the actions were incredibly frustrating, the explanations that eventually came up quelled them a bit and made it possible to understand and create a different level of adoring them.
However, it was a bit difficult to be satisfied with Aria’s sister playing a part in the story. It can be felt that there was a bit of a loose thread with explaining why she was so often unavailable—was it just due to the level of pressure and necessary attention needed to dedicate toward college? Was there something else going on? It can be assessed that a bit more information was needed there, but otherwise, Adelia was a wonderful character in the parts readers got to see her.
Lastly, the plot and storyline that Neilson provided readers was thoroughly enjoyable, imaginative, and inspiring. There were several twists, multiple unseen turns that crept up almost like the spirits Aria saw in the story. Every imagery detail was vibrant, and the pacing was spot-on for what Dark needed. There is not a single thing that can be seen as needing to change because it was all wonderfully woven and intricately placed throughout.
Overall, I am once again blown away by Riss M. Neilson’s work. There were tears of joy, sadness, longing, and so much more. Laughter, gasping, and shaking in anticipation. I’m Not Supposed to Be in the Dark has fitted itself onto my favorites list–right next to Neilson’s debut Deep in Providence—and I will be thinking about it for a very, very long time. For that, I give this book a starred rating. This book left off on a somewhat open note, so I do feel the need to mention—if Riss is given the opportunity to pursue future projects with Aria, I will absolutely be on board and eagerly awaiting it. There is so much potential still to be had, and I do hope that Henry Holt and Co/Macmillan takes notice of that.
Riss M. Neilson is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the Rhode Island College, she won the English department’s Jean Garrigue Award, which was judged by novelist, Nick White. She is from Providence and lives for the city’s art and culture scene. When she’s not writing, she’s watching anime or playing video games with her two children. Deep in Providence is her debut novel.
Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok if you want to know more about Deep in Providence and what she’s currently working on.