In Home After Dark, Small introduces readers to Russell, a pretty typical kid who finds himself abandoned by one then both parent, both emotionally and then physically. If the primary job of a parent is to make a child feel safe, then Small renders the world’s worst failing, alongside the kind of casual parenting of old that allowed people to slink away from responsibility until they just dissolved from a kid’s reality ... Social isolation is at the center of the themes that Small explores. Russell is cut off emotionally from his family and never feels comfortable enough to be accepted in the culture of neighborhood kids ... Small’s style accomplishes some beautiful and intimate world-building, with every location, every action, measured against Russell’s perception of it. It’s a psychological map for the characters to ramble through, chased by demons they don’t perceive and grasping for answers they don’t acknowledge as necessary. Is growing up directly related to the moment you realize that you grapple with the same gray terrors as your parents? Small implies that might be so.
Veteran artist and illustrator Small turns a deeply focused lens onto the isolation, loneliness, and relentless cruelty of male adolescence in this immensely powerful new work ... Thirteen-year-old Russell Pruitt, abandoned by his mother and losing his father to a slow decline into alcoholism, navigates a seemingly endless minefield of social interactions as he attempts to integrate into his new school and neighborhood ... Drawn in Small’s signature style, the narrative feels more like a series of sketches that capture the choices made by Russell and the people around him; snapshots of actions and consequences than a traditional narrative ... Spare and powerful, this is not to be missed.
Small’s illustrations are a powerful part of the story. His loose but elegant ink drawings with washes are uncluttered but wonderfully expressive ... The graphics work beautifully with Small’s text, which alternates between dialogue and Russell’s thoughts. The writing shares the understated style of the illustrations, allowing both elements to surprise the reader with their emotional punch. Russell’s story may be set some 50 years ago, but it's all too contemporary in its concerns — a story that might be even more urgent now.