Out of the Dark Reviews

"Out of the Dark is a pretty well flawless interweaving of fantasy and reality. This combining of elements delivers a book that has depth and resonance, once that may move quite ordinary mortals to tears.... This writer's control of her material, her subtlety, are things to marvel at."
-- Globe & Mail, November 11, 1995

"Katz's strong point has always been her sense of story and the reader is carried effortlessly along from the first page. Viking history and Ben's story are interwoven and the story's end sees a resolution of events both from the past and the present. The austere and forbidding beauty of the Newfoundland coast has been marvellously portrayed. Characterization is good. A well-crafted tale with a satisfying resolution."
-- Resource Links 1: December 2, 1995

"A brilliant weaving of fantasy, history, legend and lore. The weaving... is stunning in its complexity and richness."
-- Connections, June, 1997

"Katz brilliantly weaves the tale of the young Viking shipbuilder Tor into Ben's own story in such a way that Tor becomes a guide, leading Ben out of the dark, as his mother promised, and back again into life. Katz is a demanding writer who refuses to 'write down' to her young audiences. The strength of her seamlessly constructed plots is such that readers are drawn into the depths of her fictional world. In future they may well find slicker fiction a bit too shallow for their tastes."
-- The London Free Press, September 30, 1995

"So formulaic is so much of what is written today for pre-teens and teens that when truly original work comes along, it can stand out like a lone star on a dark night. Welwyn Wilton Katz's new offering, Out of the Dark, is one such beacon.... Imaginative, interesting, well researched and well written, it's a noteworthy addition to her body of work."
-- Quill and Quire starred review, July 1995.

"This is Katz's best novel. She subtly probes the agonies of Ben's loss and creates a thoughtful picture of each member of the family lost by the tragedy, seeking their own kind of consolation, not quite able to understand and help each other, despite their love."
-- Vancouver Sun, September 30, 1995

"The story ... is a powerful experience for the young adult reader. The novel's setting ranges from the contemporary village of Ship Cove to a Viking settlement in the past to a horrifying scene in a parking lot in Florida. Each time frame is vividly captured, true to the spirit of that way of life and the people.... An unforgettable story, Out of the Dark is a valuable experience written for readers aged 12 and up."
-- The Sarnia Observer, October 11, 1995

"...heartwarming tale about a family's struggle through grief.... Katz's portrayal of the boys' relationship is dead-on accurate: Underneath the fights and name-calling there's the resilience of brotherly devotion. With the macho Viking tales and the emphasis on brotherhood, there may be a temptation to label this a book for boys, but few readers will not gain from this clear-eyed and encouraging tale of a family's love and survival."
-- Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1996

"A thoughtful, affecting story about love, loss, pride and understanding. The book's message about the interdependence of people in families, communities, and even chance encounters is an important one, skillfully related."
-- School Library Journal, September 1996

"Katz's masterful portrayal of Ben results in a fully-developed character.... Fantasy and reality blend seamlessly into a well-crafted coming-of-age story."
-- Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), December, 1996

".. a story of quietly rising tension, with special appeal for the many boys who find Vikings so fascinating."
-- American Library Association Booklist, October 15, 1996

"In Out of the Dark, Welwyn Wilton Katz successfully continues to explore the main concerns of her fiction for young adults: the search for emotional wholeness of teens with problems, the pervasive influence of history and myth on the present, and the interpretation of fantasy and reality as the way by which the "real-world" present and historical-mythic past interact. Through this interpretation she also wrestles, again, with the question of who rightfully belongs to a place....The land is a shared home, and we must make it work. Katz's fiction is an impression contribution to that task."
-- Canadian Children's Literature, Volume 82, 1996

"Katz uses italics to skillfully weave a double subplot, one relating the saga of Odin and the gods and the other relating the account of Tor, a master boat builder and hunter. Each account proves to be a parallel prediction of what is to come.... In this quiet story, YA readers will relate to the hurt Ben feels... and the dramatic power of the climax with its contrasting choice between violence and friendship. Individual readers will relate to how Ben feels and consider options in their own lives of which they had previously been unaware."
-- Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy Volume 39:6, March 1996

"This is an expertly constructed story, and Katz reveals and withholds information in a way which is true to young Ben's character, and which masterfully accelerates the pace of the story, heightening our excitement and our need to know what happens next. All the threads of her story complement one another thematically: the fictional Viking episode, the snippets of Norse myths, the modern day narrative, until they are all brought together at the climax. Here, Ben gains insight into the nature of true strength, forgiveness and emotional renewal. With Out of the Dark, Katz has delivered the goods on every level: this is a well-researched drama which combines adventure with an absorbing psychological journey."
-- Children's Book News, Volume 19:1, Winter, 1996

"A young teen returns with his father and brother to a small village in Newfoundland. Still suffering after his mother's murder several years ago, Ben is in no mood to associate with the locals. He is constantly reminded of the Norse tales his mother told him and seeks solace in his wood carving, a skill they share.
Living in a house across the bay from L'Anse aux Meadows, the historic site of the earliest Norse settlements in North America, Ben finds that the tales of the past take on new life as they merge with the present. Using his father's boat, Ben visits the Viking site often.
Katz uses italics to skillfully weave a double subplot, one relating the saga of Odin and the gods and the other relating the account of Tor, a master boat builder and hunter. Each account proves to be a parallel prediction of what is to come. As Ben reads passages from their Vinland accounts of the Viking settlement and the unfortunate relations with the Skraelings, or natives, he is unwillingly led to make discoveries about the Vikings.
Katz masterfully elicits the power of the landscape in this harsh section of Newfoundland. The characters, both ancient and modern, have to be constantly alert to the ever-changing weather patterns if they want to survive the sudden violent storms. Katz allows readers to experience the silence of the landscape, to be frozen in their reading as Ben follows the accounts of the Vinland settlers.
In this quiet story, YA readers will relate to the hurt Ben feels, his frustration at being in a small village instead of Ottawa, the annoyance at both father and brother pressuring him to accept friendships, and the dramatic power of the climax with its contrasting choice between violence or friendship. Individual readers will relate to how Ben feels and consider options in their own lives of which they had previously been unaware."
-- Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Vol. 39, No. 6, March, 1996

"In Out of the Dark, Welwyn Wilton Katz successfully continues to explore the main concerns of her fiction for young adults: the search for emotional wholeness of teens with problems, the pervasive influence of history and myth on the present, and the interpenetration of fantasy and reality as the way by which the "real-world" present and historical-mythic past interact. Through this interpenetration she also wrestles, again, with the question of who rightfully belongs to a place.
Thirteen-year-old Ben Elliot and his nine-year-old brother Kieth have moved to Ship Cove, Newfoundland, with their author father Lorne, who had grown up there. The mother, Frances, has been killed in a parking lot shooting in Florida, and Lorne has taken the boys "home". The problem is that Ship Cove is not home to Ben, and he resents the move as an imposition. The one thing that saves the situation for him is that across the bay from their house is L'Anse Aux Meadows, the resored site of one of the Viking landfalls. Lorne and Frances had met one summer while working on her father's archeological dig at the site, and Ben has inherited his mother's love of things Viking. He knows The Vinland Sagas thoroughly, and since being little has "played Viking" by imagining himself to be Tor, a young shipbuilder who accompanies Karsefnie and Gudrid to settle Vinland.
In Whalesinger (1990), Katz develops the historical/tourist site marking Sir Francis Drake's harbour at Point Reyes, California, by having the past episode penetrate into the present story. Similarly, in Out of the Dark Katz details the restored Viking settlement and Ben's imaginary recreation of its inhabitants in order to have the Viking clash with native people (Skraelings) increasingly mirror, and eventually come to shape, Ben's encounter with kids of Ship Cove. The question Katz explores is whether the outside can plant a "home" in inhospitable territory. For Ben the territory is not only Newfoundland, but also the uncharted emotional ground he finds himself on after his mother is murdered. The title, Out of the Dark, comes from the story Frances tells Ben about the aftermath of the Norse Apocalypse, Ragnarok, where when everything is dead, "only then, out of the dark, will life begin again." The climax of the story occurs when Ben/Tor has to make a choice of whether to throw the Viking axe away or to bury it in the head of Ross Colbourne/Skraeling. In the actual saga it is the native chief who throws the iron axe into the lake, in a gesture of rejection of all things European. The Vikings finally abandon Vinland, knowing they cannot win the land, and that they could never share it with the Skraelings. By adapting the saga to have Ben/Tor holding the axe, Katz enables the abandoning of it to be a gesture of acceptance, goodwill, and trust rather than rejection. It also allows the Skraelings/Ship Cove kids the opportunity to express the same. It enables the ground -- the "home" -- to be shared: "Tor had gone away from here, but he, Ben, would stay. And this time, he would make Vinland work."
The search for a shared ground between Native and European was also central to Katz's False Face in which a mixed-race boy, Tom, and a white girl, Laney, tentatively enter a new, unstereotyped human territory while dealing with the havoc caused by Iroquois medicine masks of power which are irresponsibly possessed by Laney's mother. Upon the book's nomination for Trillium and Governor General's awards, Katz was charged with cultural appropriation by members of the Iroquois nation. Eight years later, by having Ben know he would "make Vinland work", Katz responds to those who accused her of treading where she has no business. The land is a shared home, and we must make it work. Katz's fiction is an impressive contribution to that task."
-- Publishers Weekly, Vol. 243, No. 29, July 15, 1996

"Katz's masterful portrayal of Ben results in a fully-developed character. His guilt feelings and self-destructive tendencies are achingly real. The reader understands Ben's frustration as the rage builds and he is tempted to react with violence. Isolated and alone, he finally realizes that he must accept his mother's death, reach out to others, and continue his life. The fantasy Viking world is evocative but not intrusive and provides insight into Ben's state of mind. Fantasy and reality blend seamlessly into a well-crafted coming-of-age story."
--Voice of Youth Advocates, Vol. 19, No. 5, December, 1996

"Two experienced and established children's writers set their most recent stories in the same corner of Canada and then base their books on the Viking settlement on the northern tip of Newfoundland. Both Welwyn Wilton Katz, Out of the Dark (Groundwood), and Joan Clark, The Dream Carvers (Viking), have written stories that are deeply rooted in that misty, magical history, and each author uses the setting to spin two seemingly very different but satisfying tales.
"Despite obvious differences in time frames, the similarities of these two books are striking. In The Dream Carvers, the fourteen-year-old Viking Thrand mourns the loss of his former life and longs to see his family again. He resists becoming fully engaged in his new life in the same way that Ben, in Out of the Dark, is stuck in a lonely Florida car park helplessly replaying the terrifying violence that claimed his mother. In both stories, wood carvings signal a rebirth of the spirit. Thrand carves a delicate comb, intended for his future bride; Ben constructs a Viking knarr, or cargo ship. Both the comb and the ship become potent symbols of new lives that are carved from the pain of the past.
"In Out of the Dark thirteen-year-old Ben, his nine-year-old brother, Keith, and his writer father move from Ottawa to begin a new life in Ship Cove, Newfoundland. Ben's father, Lorne, grew up in Ship Cove, and, although no immediate family now lives there, he feels pulled by his connections to that part of Canada. Here he had first met Ben's mother, whose tragic death is only slowly revealed and hangs like the sad fog that often envelops the village.
"Ben's mother has a poignant connection with Norse myth. She had often retold the Vinland sagas to Ben. As Ben reads them to himself, he hears his mother's voice, and he decides to carve a knarr using the tools and know-how she gave him. He thus begins his long journey back from his mother's death. As he carves his ship and listens to the stories in his mind, the Viking message and the mysteries in his own life become clearer.
"Katz uses Norse myth and history extensively, but we read about this rich vein of history in the context of Ben's struggles with himself. The young reader is not subjected to an anthropological checklist of artifacts and so may well retain this history.
"...Young readers are well served by the books reviewed here, all of which enlarge their knowledge and help build internal resources needed for daily life. More than this, these stories also impart something beyond the self: they give shape to the elusive spirit of living in Canada. Reading any of these will transport young readers into the 'mythical presence of Here'."
-- Janet Wynne Wdwards, Presence of Here, Winter 1995-1996

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