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Home After Dark

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Home After Dark Book Poster Image
Powerful graphic novel explores issues of abandonment.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Home After Dark offers a chance to discuss the topics of toxic masculinity, bullying, and scapegoating.

Positive Messages

People from very different cultural backgrounds can find a way to live together in harmony. People need to stand up to bullying.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Russell struggles with need to fit in with his peers, unsure what it means to be a responsible teen. He's naturally kind, but his insecurities and lack of parental oversight push him to indulge in negative behavior.

Violence

Home After Dark contains scenes of violence. Russell and his friend Warren are brutally beaten and bullied. A character commits suicide, but the act is not illustrated. Someone in town tortures and kills kittens and puppies.

Sex

Warren and Russell hug while Warren is naked. Russell sees Kurt and a waitress together after the two of them have had sex.

Language

Swearing is frequent and varied, with a few instances each of "damn," "hell," "f--k," "s--t," "f--got," and "d--k."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Supporting characters, including Russell's father, smoke and get drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Home After Dark is a graphic novel by David Small, author of Stitches. It's about a 13-year-old boy in Northern California who must fend for himself when his parents abandon him. The story explores toxic masculinity, bullying, and scapegoating and contains many violent scenes in which the main character or his friend is brutally beaten. Strong language is frequent, with a few instances each of "damn," "hell," "f--k," "s--t," "f--got," and "d--k." Warren lies on top of Russell while naked, and Kurt has sex with a waitress. Various characters smoke and drink. 

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What's the story?

At the start of HOME AFTER DARK, 13-year-old Russell Pruitt finds himself in the haphazard care of his unemployed father, who takes him from Ohio to small-town Northern California. Russell makes friends with two older boys -- Kurt and Willie -- who hang out in a tree house hidden within a canyon. Russell also befriends Warren, who seems to want a sexual relationship of some kind. When someone starts killing dogs and cats around town, tensions rise, and Russell will be forced to make choices about who he is and what he wants from life.

Is it any good?

Stories of abandonment and bullying certainly are nothing new, but this exquisitely detailed graphic novel explores the topic with a powerful, cinematic approach. In Home After Dark, David Small captures the look and feel of another era but shows how some struggles are ever-present. In Russell, he presents a protagonist at odds with nearly everyone around him, desperate for connection even with people who put him down. The language and action are often harrowing, and the book achieves its greatest resonance in its small moments. It's suitable for older teens but may be too harsh for younger readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Home After Dark portrays high school in 1950s California. What resources were available to teen boys during the summer back then?

  • Why are some stories especially suited to be graphic novels? What effects are possible through the combination of words and pictures that are not available through prose or illustration alone?

  • How do boys learn what's acceptable behavior between themselves and their peers? How can adults guide them toward good behavior?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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