Radiant Darkness

As a young teen, I was convinced that I had been born to the wrong family — surely I was a lost princess or, even better, a misplaced goddess. Alas, my divinity was never recognized by my parents. Authors of young adult fiction have tapped into deity envy, shaping ancient myth into stories of teens with problems of godly proportions. At best these novels don’t merely reflect a young woman’s wish for independence, but explore some of the troubling aspects of leaving the nest. Emily Whitman’s Radiant Darkness is a fascinating, complex version of Persephone, the goddess Demeter’s daughter, who is courted by Hades, Lord of the Dead, and ends up underground for half the year. Whitman turns the story into a struggle between parental control and young desire. When Persephone frets that her overprotective mother is “never going to let me grow up. Another thousand years will go by, and I’ll still be sitting here with my doll,” Whitman has captured the laments of a thousand (mortal) Persephones, hankering after red lipstick and the bad boy down the block. The pleasure of this book springs partly from hearing snide teen talk with a mythological bent, and partly from the way in which Persephone runs into Hades’ arms — and learns to regret it. She discovers how much her mother adores her only when she sees how Demeter grieves, a despair that sends the human world into winter. Radiant Darkness offers a terrific story of a girl on the edge of womanhood, caught between a mother who offers no reverence and a boy who offers worship.