In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
In 2016, Eddie is fully grown and thinks he’s put his past behind him, but then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank–until one of them turns up dead. That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.
Based on the synopsis, this sounds like a promising read. Maybe even slightly suggestive of the Netflix series, Stranger Things. Minus, the aliens and super powers, of course. But still, I had such a good feeling about this one. And it started out mildly intriguing.
It was a bit slow to get into. It wasn’t until I hit page 83 when I had a response of, “Ok, now you have my full attention.” But the feeling didn’t last long. I felt my mind wandering at certain points (particularly in the adult Ed sections), and having to reread a sentence here, or a paragraph there a couple of times. Granted, I do have personal problems with focusing, but I have also read books where I’ve forgotten reality and my surroundings. For me, this book wasn’t that engrossing.
What I took issue with was the back and forth stories. Funny, right? I just finished up another novel that took this same approach to storytelling. But a major difference between The Lying Game and The Chalk Man, was the amount of introspection the authors deployed, and the approach they took to blending the stories of past and present until they eventually came together.
In this story, there was almost too much character introspection for me, and too much overlapping of inserting the present into the past story. The overall voice of Eddie/Ed kept shifting within each section, and later I thought maybe this was because the author wanted it to seem like adult Ed was reflecting on his childhood. Which is a totally logical approach to storytelling, but for some reason, it didn’t really work for me.
I think it was because not everything linked together seamlessly. But then again, it could be argued that life doesn’t fit together seamlessly either. And Tudor does make a comment several times throughout that “sometimes, it’s better not to have all the answers,” which I can appreciate the lack of closure we receive if this is theme of the novel. But, I’m someone who needs to have all the answers, so this approach drove me a bit bonkers.
Not only that, but I also felt like the whole concept of the chalk man, and the chalk code wasn’t fully developed or wasn’t really the main focus on the novel. I was expecting based on the synopsis, a type of game that was innocently created and then somehow got out of hand. Again, similarly to the game the girls played in Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game. But instead, the chalk man was kind of glossed over as just being a minor stepping stone from one plot point to the next.
Another thing I took issue with was the characters. I felt they received more development as children than they did as teenagers and later on, adults. Perhaps that was the author commenting on how things really change for you as a kid, but kind of stay the same once you reach adulthood? But this made it difficult for me to be emotionally invested in the characters, and really care about things that happened to them. I found myself caring more about what happened to them as kids more so than I did in the present day.
There are some other things that I really wasn’t impressed with, but I will save those for anyone who wants to have a one on one discussion with me about this one since they contain spoilers.
I will say that there are some positives with this text. C.J. Tudor has a gift for making thought provoking observations about people and human nature. There were several statements throughout where internally I reacted like: “DANG GIRL THAT’S DEEP!”
My favorite quote from this novel came from a discussion young Eddie has with his Dad concerning their beliefs, or rather non-belief, in heaven and hell.
“No, Eddie. I don’t think how you act in this life makes any difference after you die. Good or bad. But it does make a difference while you’re alive. To other people. That’s why you should always treat them well.”
As someone who constantly struggles spiritually with good and bad and heaven and hell (thank you Catholic School), this really resonated with me. So while I wasn’t a huge fan of the overall story, I do think Tudor has a way with making really profound observations about life, death, and humanity overall.
Anyone else read this one? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Especially Since they might vastly differ from mine.