Tuesday, February 12, 2013


In Darkness by Nick Lake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's easy to fall into the habit of reading fluffy YA about yet another dystopian world, love triangle, paranormal romance featuring zombies/angels/vampires, or  . . . fill in the blank. This book has zombies (not even really the kind you're thinking of) but it's similarities to much of the YA genre stops there. Every once in a while a book like this is necessary- to wake you up, rub you a bit raw, and expose you to something entirely new, foreign, and not really pleasant. This, really, is what reading can do for you. One of the most important things it can do for you. I read it because of the Printz,and I hope that others will find and read it since the award has brought it more to light.

In Darkness is a raw, well-crafted story that tells what it's like to live in poverty and oppression, but also explores the nature of freedom, hope, and fate amid violence. Now, Shorty is a teenager trapped in the rubble of a hospital after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Then, (two hundred years ago) Touissant L'Ouverture is a Haitian slave who led the rebellion that overthrew French and English forces. Always, they are connected as they try to be free and survive.

The themes and undercurrent of darkness bring everything full circle. Really, this book is dark in places in more than just setting. Dark in emotion. So many horrors of the realities of the life in the slums with Shorty, and of the fight for freedom with Touissaint-- that I spent the book in almost constant shock. Poverty. Violence. Rape. Hunger. No education. No help. And then the earthquake . . .

The richness of the two stories and how they intertwine is beautiful and haunting, with voodoo and the culture of the island as a powerful way to connect them. Toussaint L'Ouverture's incredible (true!) story is well researched and told in such a way that his character, bravery, and love of freedom sticks in your mind. Sometimes I was anxious to get back to Shorty, but I still appreciated those parts, especially because I think Toussaint's background gave more meaning and significance to Shorty.

Shorty, who is a powerful character that you still feel for even though he has committed so much violence and crime. Even more overwhelming is the power behind the character of Marguerite. She represents the light and goodness and hope in Shorty's world. Which, in the end, still doesn't fade even though not all of Shorty's problems are resolved. Yes, there is a lot of darkness--a powerful, hungry, encompassing darkness-- but there also is a lot of light in this book.

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