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Help me lose my mind: a This Darkness Mine review

Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis returns with a mind-bending psychological thriller that takes the unbelievable and makes it fascinating.

Announcer: Welcome back to Another Unpopular Opinion! Here’s your host, Luke Reynolds!

*audience cheers, some boo*

Luke: Hello, everyone! Welcome back to another installment of this…thing. People think it’s funny, so happy you’re all sticking around. This time we’re covering the new psychological thriller by Mindy McGinnis, This Darkness Mine.

The official cover for This Darkness Mine. (Greta Tuckute/Erin Fitzsimmons/Katherine Tegan Books)

McGinnis has been around in the YA world for a while, but I’ve only read one of her books prior to this: The Female of the Species. It was a critically acclaimed novel in the same vein as this release, a story following three high school seniors, one of them who got away with murdering her older sister’s killer. Not only was it well-written and did an excellent job of tearing apart rape culture, but it showed some excellent adult figures and beautiful shreds of realism. However, I felt like she missed an opportunity exploring one of the female side characters, instead focusing on a male character and romance I didn’t find interesting. The plot also jumped around at points.

But I still wanted to see what else McGinnis was writing. Her catalog spans from a dystopian debut to historical fantasy to stuff in this vein. I wasn’t just intrigued because I was a twin and this involved a real thing that happens (vanishing twin syndrome, where the mom or the other twin absorbs the second fetus). It also sounded so twisted. A cutthroat teenage girl who knows what she wants and doesn’t want to falter, yet can’t resist the pressure of her twin’s heart falling for the bad boy? Sign me up! I was ready for action and couldn’t wait to dig into this.

Things actually turned out great. McGinnis’ writing is once again excellent, even if it feels a little recursive this time around. Sasha’s an excellent protagonist, self-aware of her awfulness and not apologizing for it. All of the characters are vivid and interesting, unlikable in their own little ways. It also never hesitates to make a reader uncomfortable.

Reviewers haven’t liked this much. They say it’s too weird, creepy and just plain nonsensical. But I believe that’s the point. This will divide readers, some loving the gore and intimacy of Sasha’s nightmare while others may get confused and inevitably disgusted. But Sasha wouldn’t have it any other way. You love her or you hate her, and I’m on the former side, for the most part.

To make things simpler: I really enjoyed this one. That’s a first.

Sasha’s an excellent protagonist, self-aware of her awfulness and [unapologetic]. ”

— Luke Reynolds

*woman gasps, passes out in aisle*

Luke: MEDIC!

Sorry about that. Let’s get back to business.

A great place to start is the writing. The last book I read from McGinnis had gritty, suspenseful and realistic prose. This was no exception. The dialogue is invigorating, revealing how characters translate their thought processes into words. Sasha’s narration sends chills down spines as she continues to spiral downward. And the book isn’t afraid to get downright graphic at times, even to the point where squeamish readers have to look away. Reading lines about blood spraying everywhere and a girl hacking away at a pig in biology make me a little queasy, but it’s still kind of fascinating to imagine.

I feel like I’m turning into Sasha’s best friend, Brooke.

Curious Cathy: Would you mind telling us more about the characters?

Luke: I’d be happy to. What better place to start than Sasha Stone herself? She is a real piece of work. She’s the first chair in band with her handy-dandy clarinet, overlord over her two blonde BFFs, the gore-loving Brooke and the curly-haired Lilly and loving calculated boyfriend to Heath, the oxford-wearing trombonist. But that all changes when she discovers an ultrasound in her family’s closet with two babies in her mother’s womb. Who is this other girl? Is it a twin sister left for adoption? Did she die? And why does her heart lurch whenever neck-tattooed and dangerous-seeming Isaac Harver walk by?

Once Sasha comes up with the idea that her twin was absorbed into her and her heart isn’t her own, things go off the deep end. Why is her twin trying to take over her life? Why can’t she have the perfection she wants, complete with high school graduation, a four-year trip to Oberlin and the satisfaction of Future Sasha achieving everything? Why does it feel so good to break the rules? Why is Isaac not as bad as he appears? Why is her father so cold and distant? Why is her mother willing to listen? What’s going on?

No doubt this sounds twisted to you all.

Random Man: What’s wrong with that? I love dark and twisted.

A photo of author Mindy McGinnis. (Amy Parrish)

Luke: Then you may enjoy this one. McGinnis sticks true to her characters to the end, letting them ride this dark rollercoaster until their last breath. Some of them lack development, but they’re all interesting in their own ways. Brooke and Lilly bounce dirty jokes off Sasha’s glossy veneer, Heath is caring but distant, Isaac slowly reveals more of himself as a decent and caring human being who isn’t just about drugs, and Sasha’s parents and social worker all have their own quirks to make them interesting.

But really, the main player of this game is Sasha. What a protagonist. She’s completely aware of her manipulation, overachieving status and lack of a drive to connect with others. She’s all about her future and goals. But when her twin takes her away from these, she panics and tries to get the reins back. But it’s not that simple. As the two leave messages, the repressed twin’s laced with parentheses to expose double meanings, and Sasha continues to unravel from a mentally stable position, she changes into becoming a little more empathetic, perhaps. But is it all an act? We’ll never know for sure, because by the end, Sasha gets what she wants and that’s what matters.

Kudos to McGinnis for sticking through Sasha’s awfulness. I’ve never liked a vehemently dislikable character as much as this. It’s overwhelming to be in her head at points because she’s never quite reliable. Is this whole thing with her twin a farce so she can act out? Is it all in her head, her state of mind slowly becoming delusional? Or is it real and is she alone on her journey? Your guess is as good as mine. Either way, she’s fascinating and worth the trip, even when it gets to be a little much.

However, some parts don’t work as well. At times, the writing becomes recursive and repeats information the reader already knew. It’s also hard at points to suspend disbelief as one seemingly impossible and violent thing happens one after the other. No wonder this was placed in the Adult section at my local library.

Curious Cathy: Is that also because there’s more intimate sexual content than what’s usually involved in YA?

Random Man: Sex? Ha! That’s not PG.

Luke: You’ve done plenty of non-PG things, Random Man. Regardless, Curious Cathy has a point. Sexual references are more explicit here, something that was intriguing and effective. The chemistry between Isaac and Sasha, alongside some of the activities that happen, is enough to char the heartiest of trees. McGinnis went for it, and I’m glad she did. Even if all that chemistry had to happen in cheating. But as Sasha would say, “It’s not my fault!”

I’ve never liked a vehemently dislikable character as much as [Sasha]. [The girl’s] never quite reliable [but] she’s fascinating and worth the trip….”

— Luke Reynolds

This Darkness Mine won’t be for everyone. It’s a gory and disturbing novel that bears no mercy for its protagonist,  her circumstances and her behavior. But that’s why it’s so riveting. By being unapologetic in her use of implausible events to make everything seem believable in a sea of insanity, McGinnis makes the readers stay hooked. It’s a book that will make you scream and shout, obscenities and all.

That’s all for now. Until the next unpopular opinion, good night!

*audience applauds*

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Help me lose my mind: a This Darkness Mine review