Out of the Dark
Sharon Sala is certainly no stranger to difficult topics. Her past novels have handled subjects such as miscarriage, disfigurement, and child abuse. This novel, with its gut-wrenching portrayal of child prostitution, certainly has one of the grimmest themes I have encountered in romance. But, while I have to admire the author for her bravery in tackling this subject, I also cannot help but recoil from some of the flashback scenes in this book. Add to that some rather glaring flaws in plotting and characterization, and you end up with a rather harrowing read.
When Jade Cochrane was four, she was kidnapped by her mother and taken off to join a cult called the People of Joy. The reader never learns much about the group’s beliefs aside from the fact that Jade, along with other children, was sold to perverts by the cult’s leader. Jade’s nightmare began as a six-year-old following the death of her mother and continued until she is rescued by Raphael, another child, at the age of 12. From then on, Jade and Raphael spent 12 years living on the streets.
Now Jade and Raphael support themselves by selling artwork at craft fairs. At one such fair, a friend of her father spies a portrait of Jade’s mother and buys it. That portrait then leads Jade’s father to hire ex-cop Luke Kelly to search for his long missing daughter. In yet another miraculous coincidence, Luke just happens to see news footage of Jade being rescued from a New Orleans flood.
Luke finds Jade and Raphael and, with the help of Raphael, who has his own reasons for wanting to see Jade settled, convinces Jade to go to her father in St. Louis. Ignorant of Jade’s history, Luke also begins to feel attracted to the young woman. Unfortunately, Jade’s past isn’t completely behind her since the cult leader who once exploited her and at least one former customer are not happy to see Jade alive.
The romance between Jade and Luke is one of the book’s greatest problems. When the reader first meets Jade, she’s living on the streets and distrusts everyone but Raphael. She is at such a low point in her life that it is unrealistic to expect that she will be able to enter a truly committed relationship within the space of a few months. Jade’s quick change from a quivering, deeply haunted victim into a mature and loving woman was unrealistic and even moderately disturbing.
Luke’s rapid romantic pursuit of Jade is also a little creepy. Most men, learning that the object of their affections was once a sexually abused child prostitute and later homeless, would probably be wary of pushing a committed romantic relationship without giving her some time to heal. An informal poll of my husband, my brother, and other males hapless enough to cross my path as I read this novel seemed to bear this out most emphatically.
Then again, perhaps it wouldn’t be that hard for Jade to learn to trust again since everyone she encounters in this book is either so good their halo practically glows or so bad they virtally darken the sky whenever they are around. With the possible exception of Jade and Raphael, who is really something of a Christ figure in this novel, the characters are not subtly drawn.
Despite these flaws, the book does manage to maintain some momentum. Sharon Sala is an experienced author who knows how to keep a story moving and she is capable of writing truly evocative prose. Unfortunately, this novel, despite her bravery in tackling some gut-wrenching subject matter, simply is not the author at her best.