Good news! This is a spoiler free review - read on to your heart's content.
tw: mentions of sexual assault and mental illness
These are solely my views and opinions, and mine alone. If you disagree that's cool :)
QUICK RUNDOWN: Three young girls, Stacia, Alex and Kammie break free from years of torment and abuse from their captor and trafficker, Doc. However, their fight for freedom is far from over as they struggle with the daunting world outside.
My first impression of 'The Pale White' was one of intrigue. As an abuse survivor myself, I've come across a range of disappointing fictional stories that, although mostly well-intended, only focus on the traumatising event itself before finishing everything with a 'and then they lived happily ever after with little to no lasting effects on their mental health or world view'. So, I was interested to read Lutzke's novella and see how well he captured the trauma of the main characters after escape from enslavement. This is a big thing for me in stories such as these as getting out of a horrifying situation is difficult enough but trying to return to 'normal' afterwards is a whole different battle.
Thankfully, I was not disappointed in the slightest.
Although it is certainly mentioned, there are no graphic depictions of sexual assault throughout the book. It instead focuses on the emotional and psychological effect said abuse and torment has on the three young girls. I feel as if this is a trap that a lot of authors fall into, where they go well into the horrific deeds but neglect the aftermath that sexual assault victims face, thus cheapening the truth of the matter. I was pleased that the focus of this narrative was on the victims and their fight to overcome their trauma and that the narrative did not exploit the characters for extra horror/gore points. I could go more into this but that's a whole other blog post.
On top of that, some authors assume that if you slap a character with a tragic backstory, then they're automatically relatable. However, Lutzke shows us the effects said backstory has on Alex, Stacia and Kammie, making them a very interesting and heartwrenching trio. Stacia's attempt to try and introduce Kammie into the real world is especially heartbreaking as she seems to be going down the same path as Alex (who is heartbreaking in her own right) with no faith in the goodness of people.
On top of this, the plot was incredibly compelling with plenty to keep you hooked. I was never tempted to abandon the book due to the urgency to find out what was going to happen next. I instantly found myself instantly latching onto the characters and investing their story.
Throughout the novel, I was so pleased to see that the majority of the story was told from the first-person perspective of Stacia, a teenage girl who has been drugged and kidnapped for the purpose of sex trafficking. This gives a more personal and emotionally-evoking touch to the narrative since we are getting Stacia's honest, unfiltered thoughts. Lutzke also did a great job at reflecting the voice of Stacia in a realistic manner with no over-the-top slang or other try-hard gimmicks. She's a genuine teenage girl with a level of maturity and insight no child should have to have.
I also found the story to be a rather realistic and vivid depiction of trauma with the girls not knowing what to do with their newfound freedom and unable to escape the self-coping prison they've created for the purpose of surviving. This is a common factor with victims of long-term trauma as their coping strategies no longer serve them once they are safe from the abuse they are facing. This is shown through Alex's vampire delusion as it not only allows her to reason her captivity (unable to go out in sunlight) but also gives her the power to fight back (drinking blood). Yet once she is free to leave, she finds herself unable to accept it and let go of her vampire persona. I thought this was a very clever and heartbreaking (although understandably extreme) metaphor to express this side of trauma to those who have and haven't experienced it. Not everyone makes it, even when they're out of the traumatic situation.
What really defied my expectations was the ending (again, no spoilers). I honestly had to go back a few times to make sure I was reading it correctly. I can't go too far into it without giving it away, but since I had such dark expectations for the fate of the girls, it was a bittersweet experience that really gave me hope in humanity.
The best thing about this book is not only the realistic and thoughtful depiction of trauma but also the message that the there is always hope that things will get better and there are good people in this world. Clever, dark and multilayered, this a quick but definite must-read to kick-off 2020.
Want to read 'The Pale White'? - Amazon
More on Chad Lutzke
CLAIRE L. SMITH is an Australian author, poet and filmmaker. Her debut gothic horror novella, HELENA is due for release via Clash Books in October 2020.