27. February 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Courtney, Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Teen Books · Tags:

In Darkness by Nick Lake, 337 pages, read by Courtney, on 02/25/2013

When In Darkness won the 2013 Printz Award, I was a bit surprised. So many other books had a lot of buzz, but this one didn’t seem to register on that particular radar. I knew it had been well-reviewed, but when it won, it jumped up to the top of my reading list and I was not disappointed.
This is a story of two major turning points in Haitian history. We are first introduced to modern-day Haiti through the eyes of Shorty, a young gang member who had been convalescing in a hospital after a gunshot wound when the 2010 earthquake hit. Shorty, now buried so deep in rubble that he can’t even see, tells us his story in order to keep himself sane. Shorty was born as a twin, which, in Haitian culture, implies that the lwa (gods) have blessed these children. Life is difficult, but more or less tolerable in the slums of Port-Au-Prince. While the UN guards the slums, it is really the local chimeres, or gangs, that control the community. The only funding for education or medicine comes from the local gangs and the UN frequently causes more problems than they fix, giving the people of Site Solay (and many, many others) little reason to believe that they are there to help. When Shorty witnesses his own father being slaughtered by a rival gang and loses his twin to the gang in the process, Shorty joins Route 19 in order to fight for his sister’s return.
Juxtaposed against Shorty’s story is the more historical narrative of Toussaint L’Ouverture. Toussaint and others, inspired by the recent revolution in France, aim to rid Haiti of slavery. While attending a vodou gathering wherein the lwa of war is invited to inhabit one of the souls present at the ceremony, Toussaint is infused with the soul of a boy. A boy who lives in a Haiti where black people are no longer slaves. He is also suffused with much of the boy’s knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic; skills which he swiftly uses to his advantage. The truly striking aspect of Toussaint’s mission is his insistence limiting violence as much as possible. Indeed, Toussaint became notorious for being considerably ahead of his time and went on to influence the American abolition movement nearly a century later.
As Shorty begins to lose his grip on reality, he keeps seeing flashes of a distant past…
I absolutely loved how these two gripping stories intertwined to present a rich and complex picture of a country torn apart first by imperialism and then by poverty, violence and corruption. This is a book that I can not stop thinking about. Appeal to teens may be limited, but sophisticated readers willing to take the plunge will not have any regrets.

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