BLACK CHALK by Christopher J. Yates


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In Yates’ debut, six college friends learn the hard way that games are never just games once they’re made personal.

Chad Mason wants to do something brave. He knows he’s stronger than he appears. So, on his first day at Pitt College in Oxford, England, he sets out to make a friend. He finds Jolyon, a charismatic and confident person who takes Chad under his wing; together, they become a duo so tightknit they consider their bond unbreakable. Why not test that bond? They are at Pitt to challenge themselves, yes? They develop a game, “six people, a number of rounds…a game of consequences [that]…take the form of psychological dares.” Jolyon and Chad find the rest of their players: Mark, a quiet physics major; sarcastic Jack; Emilia, a kindhearted, beautiful blonde; and Dee, a poet with a dark past. They each agree to play—to prove their strength? Their intelligence? Their faith in friendship?—and they grow ever closer as the game progresses, with game and life blending and becoming one. At first, it’s hard to imagine why they would ever want to participate, but Yates is convincing in his portrayal of the game’s power: everyone wants to believe they’re part of something special. It’s clear from Page 1, though, that the illusion falls apart—“if there’s nothing to lose, where’s the thrill?”—and the game turns deadly. Fourteen years later, what’s left is one player’s account—but this player is badly broken. Yates’ unreliable narrator makes the story a puzzle in itself, and while frustrating, it’s all fun and games…right? Parts of this story are downright unrealistic, you won’t get much character development, and key elements are left unexplained, but if you’re in this for the game, you’ll leave satisfied.

You can’t help but admire how Yates slowly unravels his players’ safety nets—their minds—one roll of the dice at a time.

Pub Date: Aug. 4th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-250-07556-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2015


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