Hardy Reed, nicknamed Hardly, in Dark Ride by Lou Berney, is content to slacker. Stuck in a Midwest town, he gets high with friends and watches television, living in a garage while working a minimum wage job as a scare character at an amusement park. Hardy grows up with an indifferent foster family after losing a loving and supportive mother, not an easy childhood, but he is happy. And he is also kind. While paying off a parking ticket at city hall, he notices two quiet children with signs of abuse and he refuses to rationalize the injuries and just move on. Instead, he figures out the family’s name and address to reach out to Child Protective Services.
But the agency is overwhelmed, and Hardy keeps investigating. The more he learns, the more he knows that Pearl, 7, and Jack, 6, are enduring hellish treatment, and Hardy is frustrated by “every other person in the world who sees a problem and just wants to walk the other way.”
He asks questions, tracks the parents and makes new friends along the way. An amateur, he also makes mistakes and becomes a target, falling for a trap. After a vicious attack, Hardy wonders why he "stupidly believed." Knowing his limitations, he reflects, “I’m the kid in the back row, moving his lips and just pretending to sing. I’m the dude with a fake badge and a toy gun. The dumbest thing you can do if you’re like me, is believe you can be more than you are. Don’t ask for anything and you won’t be disappointed. I should have listened to my foster father.”
But the mission to save two children transforms and motivates Hardy, so much so he hardly recognizes himself. “The previous me would waffle, would let doubt wish and wash him back and forth. And then finally he’d do nothing. He’d keep on keeping on. But that’s not me anymore.”
During a fast-paced plot over the course of a few days, Hardy finds courage, comradery, love and satisfaction, and readers must decide for themselves if Dark Ride has a happy ending.