Overall Grade: 4.5 ⭐️
You can’t help but say “thank you” to the author for stories such as Kate Willoughby’s Darkroom. Its truth lies in its provocation regarding issues related to cultural identity, beauty standards, and mental health in sports. You might think, “wait…how is this entertaining?” Yet, with the right wordsmith, these messages conspire into a story that reads easy and entertains its readers.
Set in the Moo U world, Darkroom tells the story of Indi and Hudson. While Indi and Hudson meet when Indi walks in on Hudson with her former roommate, that isn’t the true meet-cute of Darkroom. Their true meeting occurs on a night when Indi rushes out to grab food on campus and runs literally into Hudson, causing them to spill their food. Indi has always harbored a crush on Hudson since walking in on him, but her sense of self is fragile, given that she has a Port Wine Stain birthmark on her face. Usually, she covers it with makeup, but the night they meet, she covers her face with a scarf and he sees her birthmark. Embarrassed, Indi rushes away, only to realize that Hudson is in her photography class. Hudson and Indi are intrigued with each other, and when the professor requires them to partner with a classmate, Hudson and Indi become partners out of their interest. As these two get to know each other, they realize a true connection and chemistry. Eventually, they fall for each other, but their lives are so complicated that you wonder if they can find their happy ending.
Both Hudson and Indi are remarkable characters. What I love about Willoughby’s characterization of them is, at first glance, for example, Hudson seems fairly innocuous. Yes, he’s a typical “jock,” meaning that he plays the field and he prioritizes hockey over everything else. Yet, as Hudson’s journey progresses, we realize quickly that he struggles with anxiety and a serious health issue. Willoughby creates these moments in his character’s journey where he is like many of us: unwilling to seek help because it shows a sign of weakness. In those moments, she allows her heroine, Indi, to speak wisdom. When he takes Indi’s advice, he is often rewarded in big ways in this story, underscoring the idea that assistance doesn’t mean weakness; it means empowerment.
Of the two, Indi is the most complex character in that she works through ideas about traditional standards of beauty which become complicated by her birthmark plus Indi’s sense of cultural identity. This too was an insightful choice for Willoughby’s Darkroom. In Indi’s characterization, we find an Asian-American character, bringing more diversity to the Moo U world. Even more, she has complicated her Chinese background by denying it (for fair psychological reasons). With her, though, Willoughby develops a roommate who oftentimes speaks truth to Indi, and she challenges her to embrace her cultural background. Indi’s evolution in Darkroom is my favorite part of the book…well, second favorite part.
My favorite part is simply Hudson and Indi’s relationship. Except for one or two moments in the story, Indi and Hudson have a mutual respect for each other, and it creates this big love for them. Willoughby does a great job of pacing and progressing their journey, and I found myself continually motivated to keep turning the page until I finished the book. Kate Willoughby’s epilogue and bonus epilogue will make you swoon because, quite frankly, Hudson and Indi together are swoon-worthy.
Once again, Kate Willoughby is a great addition to the Moo U series. Providing even more diversity and a couple who challenge you to think about mental health, beauty, and culture, Darkroom, by my estimation, is another hit for the World of True North.
In love and romance,