It was a hot, Coney Island summer and we were headed towards the Wonder Wheel. Hands entwined as always, as I pulled off pieces of candy floss. The sugar melted in our mouths, sharing sticky kisses. We laughed feeling lucky for that moment. We had fallen in love in April, and although it was merely July (three months later) we felt like we had been together forever. We were inseparable. No one else mattered to us but each other. We lived on kisses and sugary sweets. We had no regard for day or night, we were always awake, always up to something.
“You know there’s an old gypsy tale that if you ride the Wonder Wheel with someone else, you’ll be together forever,” he said to me, his dark hair blowing into his eyes.
“Are you sure you wanna be stuck with me forever?” I joked.
But I couldn’t imagine my life without him. He was the one person I loved to talk to at any hour of the day, and even when we’d spend the day watching Asian horror movies and eating takeout I’d never get bored.
Like two enthusiastic kids, we got on the Wonder Wheel, feeling like we were on top of the world. Everyone below us was so tiny, and he kissed me at the top of the Ferris Wheel. I could’ve lived in the moment forever. I wanted to live in that moment forever. I wished the night would melt into my veins, and that I could swallow the stars.
“I love you,” he murmured. A phrase he’d tell me so often during the day, and no matter how many times he said it still managed to make me melt. I’d wake up with his uttering his love, and drifted to sleep with him declaring it one more time. I could feel his love embrace my whole being. My heart was full. It had never felt so full before.
And then one day catastrophe happened.
Because fate is unkind to lovers. Fate tore us apart, and ever since my heart has never felt full again. Like those people who can still feel their limbs after amputation, I too, feel this phantom love. Other times I’m just aching for the part of me that isn’t there because he had become so essential to my being.
I often think about that moment at the Wonder Wheel. A part of me hopes that the superstition is true. That fate can be bent and he’ll find his way back to me. Or that time can be rewound and I can find myself back on the top of the Ferris Wheel, our lips sticky with sugar, sharing kisses, sharing breaths, sharing dreams.
Mindy McGinnis has been delivering badass (sometimes unlikeable) but definitely strong female protagonists since her early works. This Darkness Mine is no different from her previous novels in that regard. Sasha Stone is the epitome of perfection: first chair clarinet player, straight-A student, and also comes equipped with a “perfect” boyfriend who’s handsome, well-dressed, and doesn’t pressure her into sex. All of this slowly begins to erode once bad-boy Isaac Harver enters the scene. Soon, she begins to feel feelings towards him that she never did and recalling events she’s never taken part of. Or has she?
Some light begins to shed when we find out that Sasha had a twin that she ultimately ended up absorbing whilst in the womb (known as Shanna). Unlike Sasha, this twin despises control and perfection and begins to wreck havoc into her life once she starts to take over Sasha’s psyche. But is Shanna real or merely a figment of Sasha’s imagination?
The book flirts with the notion of unreliable narrator, much like Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan did with Natalie Portman’s character. Is what is happening real or is it all just a sign of Sasha’s ultimate madness?
McGinnis breathes life into the “dead twin” Shanna, allowing her to be the personification of Freud’s ID (meaning being a person who only lives for their own passions and don’t allow their brain to control their emotions). Sasha on the other hand is Freud’s EGO end of this yin-yang duo, the brain and captain of the ship. But what happens when the emotion-driven Shanna takes reins of the situation and how will that effect Sasha’s “perfect” world?
This book isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s dark. It’s gritty. It’s gory. (Yes, I L-O-V-E-D it!). And just when you think you know where it’s leading you, you’re completely blindsided by yet again another improvised detour that will leave you questioning your own sanity and judgment. McGinnis delivers a punch to the gut with her sharp writing and often ruthless character interactions.
So take the plunge, cause it’s one hell of a crazy ride.
Short Q & A With the Author:
When I started reading This Darkness Mine I realized that the book was based off of the short story that appeared in Among The Shadows, entitled Phantom Heart. When did you decide to further explore Sasha’s world and what was it about this character that compelled you to do that?
Great question, thanks for noticing! Yes, DARKNESS is based on my short, “Phantom Heart.” Originally, I had no intention of taking this any further. Then my fellow editors for Among The Shadows – Demitria Lunetta and Kate Karyus Quinn – insisted that there was a whole novel there. I wasn’t sure, but I pitched the idea to my editor at Harper Collins, who was like – Yes! Write it!
Sasha Stone is the typical overachiever. Do you think that her mental illness derives from expecting perfection out of herself and the pressures that come along with that, or does she suffer from multiple personality disorder?
I worked in a public school for 15 years, and I always thought it was interesting how black and white rules and programs were. Drugs are bad. Sex is bad. Smoking is bad. Period. In some ways, we’re telling the kids that even curiosity about our “darker” inclinations are plain wrong, and need to be smothered, not investigated. Perfection is impossible, yet many strive for it. I wondered what would happen if you took an already strained teen, trying to be the “good” kid, and had her repulsed even by any interest in doing “bad” things. Would she be able to accept that such urges can be normal? Or is that so far outside of what we’ve taught her is “good” that she has to come up with an alternative explanation?
For many years I’ve been very fascinated with the creepy phenomenon of Fetus in Fetu, where a twin ends up absorbing the other twin in the womb, and in some cases doctors have later found the missing twin inside of the living twin, usually mistaken for a tumor later on in life. When did you become interested in this strange phenomenon?
It’s actually not a rare event, it’s something that usually goes completely unnoticed. I can’t remember the first time I ever heard of it, because it is pretty pervasive in pop culture, but I did have a student years and years ago who had absorbed his twin. It’s something I collected in my lint trap of a brain, and it became paired in my mind with the mirror therapy that they use for phantom limb syndrome, which is how “Phantom Heart” came about.
In the novel, Sasha is a clarinet player. Were you ever in band in high school and how did that help with writing the novel from a musician’s point of view?
You bet!!! Trombone since 4th grade!!! I tell everyone this is my band geek book. I also took piano lessons throughout most of my childhood, so music has always been a part of my life as both a consumer and a producer. This was a chance to work that into a book.
This novel was exceptionally dark. It explored the trials of mental illness as well as what it means to be a successful girl. Which actress could you see in the role of Sasha if this were to be made into a movie?
Oh, I have no idea. I don’t ever do any fan casting.
(Editor note: I asked that question because I could totally see Emma Roberts portraying stone-cold crazy bitch Sasha to perfection.)
I often use music to get into a certain mood depending what scenes I’m writing. Since your novel was about a girl who was obsessed with music, did you use music as a way to aid you in the writing of this book? And which music/artist/or song did you listen to when immersing yourself into Sasha’s world?
I actually don’t listen to music when I’m writing because while it can be helpful to get you into one mood, it can also end up controlling you mood so that when you need to flip to something else when you change scenes it can be hard. Instead I have a white noise app that I keep on while I’m writing. It’s a back ground noise that lets my creativity be in control, not someone else’s.
I met you in the City of Love, or most commonly known as Paris. I was heartbroken and crying my eyes out along the Seine when you stopped me and asked me if I needed help in any way. “Are you capable of fixing a broken heart?” I said with a slight embarrassed laugh in between the tears. You were gentle and kind, and although your eyes are of the lightest shade of blue, they were the warmest color in that cold winter day.
You were in the city with your brother because he had a film meeting, and I was there to see “The Soulmate” (brooding musician that made any girl sigh as he walked by) only to find out that what should’ve been a getting back together weekend turned out to be a breaking up for good when he admitted that a girl he was casually seeing was impregnated with his baby. Somehow that cemented the fact that I needed to walk away for good.
My infatuation for you was both sudden and fleeting. I loved the way you held your paintbrush as you went on a painting frenzy, mixing the colours till they transformed into magic. Your kisses were warm, but my heart was cold. I’d touch you hoping that I’d feel something inside of me stir, but my heart was too wounded to even find a weak beat in its dark crevices.
We shared cappuccinos and croissants in Florence, admired Botticelli’s art, and walked along the bridge over the Arno River. You held unto my hand as though you never wanted to let it go, and yet I always walked a step ahead of you, as though I wanted to disentangle from your affection.
And yet the months went by and I kept living in old black and white photographs whilst your world was in technicolor. You didn’t know how dark my world had become, I was so good at smiling in your presence. But tears would plague me the moment I was alone. I didn’t even know what I was crying over. The end of a relationship? Losing the soulmate? Or was I merely devastated that I couldn’t feel what you felt for me?
Love for you was eternal Spring, whilst I was living the most dreadful winter. When it came time for me to tell you the truth and let you go, I watched your heart crack leaving dreadful red marks down your chest and I wished that I could repaint a better picture. I yearned so much that I could distort the world to make it appear as beautiful as you saw it, because I wanted to much to be a part of it, but I don’t think I ever was.
The stars had abandoned me. There was only darkness in my road and you deserved the light.
Our love spanned several cities and many jet-lagged mornings. There were more winters than summers. Always wrapped up in bulky sweaters and coats. Our breaths rising in the cold mornings as we shared secrets and cigarettes.
Knowing you was like knowing the world. I learned everything from you. The good, the bad, and the painful. You were smart, well-read, and the right amount of cocky and charming. You were my beacon of light in the dark corridors of my heart. You illuminated everything that was good or bad about me. Maximum transparency. There was no hiding from you. I was cut open, ready for inspection like a frog that was getting dissected by a curious student.
At night we’d fall asleep curled up – exhausted. I’d fall asleep holding your guitar-callused hand feeling safe. I thought you were my soul mate, but I was young and you were reckless.
Our fights would make the walls shake with my accusations, your rage would destroy everything we had built together. You were such a confident liar and I too young and willing to believe the fables you weaved in gold to blind me of the truth.
But maybe you didn’t want to see the truth either.
So we decked our eyes with stars and would live on kisses and chocolates. We whispered poetry, William Blake, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, while lying in bed our naked limbs tangled like a fishnet at rest. We lived on music and writing. Your words, my words, soon they became our words till your song and my poems were one and the same reciting the same story over and over again to audiences eager to listen to our heartbreak and love.
I’d drive fast into the night without the headlights on, using the beam of the moon as my guide in the dark. You’d hang your head out the passenger window, your black hair flying wildly in the wind and say, “We are going to live forever!” Because, forever when you are young is infinite.
We shared love, music, tears, and books. We were one.
For a moment we were soul mates.
Now you sing your stories about our love to audiences hungry with desire, and I whisper my poems to the wind because I want my words to be carried across the ocean and caress you at night when you’re asleep and I’m just waking up for the day.