Cally Black’s debut YA novel, In the Dark Spaces, is, in a word, intense. Teenager Tamara is a stow-away on a space freighter, living in a tiny cabin with her toddler cousin, Tamiki, while her aunt, Lazella, works as a cook. They are saving money to start their lives together settled as a family on a planet, but until that time they must brave danger-ridden long-haul space journeys. Tamara and Tamiki have spent their lives silent and hidden, with Tamara only moving outside of their cabin through the dark spaces of the pipes and ducts around the ship, watching the crew but never able to interact with them. When their freighter is attacked by strange creatures, everyone on board is in jeopardy, and Tamara must try and save her little cousin. But then they are separated, and Tamara must do whatever she can to survive and get back to her little Tamiki.
In the Dark Spaces is an emotional rollercoaster, as Tamara must go to great lengths just to keep herself alive. She quickly learns the language of the creatures that attacked her freighter, and thus becomes a bridge between species; the only person who can see that both sides must work together if either are to survive in deep space. Black’s writing keeps the tension high and the anger ever-present as Tamara fights for what’s right, and takes step after step to get back to her cousin, but only seems to get further away as the people around her ignore what she has to say. More than once I felt like shouting at this book as I read it, wanting justice and retribution against the characters that dismiss Tamara and what she has to say. This is a very good indicator that the book is firmly within the YA genre; the teen protagonist is the only one who can save them all, but no one listens to her, and it’s very frustrating as you read the story from her point of view.
I won’t give away the ending, but I was on the edge of my seat through the whole book, right up until the last page, and this is another excellent indicator of genre, this time the Thriller. I would include this novel in the relatively new Thriller sub-genre of YA Thriller, with the added bonus that it’s a brilliant sci-fi work as well. I’d recommend In the Dark Spaces to anyone who enjoys highly imaginative sci-fi, intense YA narratives, edge-of-your seat thrillers, or tear-jerking separation stories.