In Darkness is the dual tale of Shorty and Toussaint at two pivotal points in the history of Haiti. Shorty is a young gang member who is recovering from a gun shot wound in a hospital when the 2010 earthquake traps him in the rubble. While stuck in the darkness he has visions of Toussaint in the past. Toussaint is the slave who brought freedom to Haiti. He learned from the French Revolution and worked to overthrow the French in Haiti and end slavery. He brought both blacks and whites to his side and even though he was betrayed by Napoleon and died in prison, his vision eventually became a reality. Both men tell their stories in alternating narratives; explaining how they came to the end points of their stories.
I had a difficult time with this book. I had to actually put the book down and do some research on Haiti, both past and present. I will admit that it is not a country I know much about and I had no idea who the people were that were discussed in the book (Aristide, Dread Wilme, Lavalas). I found Toussaint to be a much more sympathetic character than Shorty; at least he was fighting for a goal whereas Shorty admitted he liked killing people. I think the most disturbing thing about the book was the realistic descriptions of what live in Haiti is like. It truly does seem like hell on earth and the UN doesn’t seem to be doing any good there. Not sure what the situation is like after the earthquake, but I don’t expect it has changed all that much. It is sad when the gangs are the ones caring for the people and the UN is killing the gang bangers which leaves the poor with even less than before. I am not sure about the appeal of this book. I can’t see a lot of teens sticking with it or even picking it up in the first place, but then a lot of award-winning books are like that.
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.
Cullen lives in small town Lily, Arkansas. Nothing happens in this town until the summer that John Barling claims to have seen the Lazarus Woodpecker, a bird long thought extinct. Then Cullen’s brother disappears. Suddenly, Cullen’s life of boredom and nothingness is anything but. The story is told in alternating views of Cullen’s story and that of seemingly unrelated Benton Sage and Cabot Searcy. Benton is a failed missionary who commits suicide and Cabot is is college roommate who becomes obsessed with the Ethiopian Bible’s Book of Enoch after Benton’s suicide.
This is an interesting little book. I was never really sure where the story was going. On one hand you have a fairly straight forward plot with Cullen and the loss of his brother. He is trying to deal with that loss and the craziness that has come to his town with the Lazarus bird nonsense. He deals with his family, his best friend, girls, guys at school; basically all the normal teen stuff mixed with the devastation of losing his best friend and brother. But then you had the other plotline in and you have no idea how it ties with Cullen’s story. In itself it isn’t as interesting as Cullen’s story. Benton only has a couple of chapters and Cabot quickly goes crazy and obsessive. I never really bought the whole religious conversion of Cabot. I think it would have made more sense from Benton. The transformation from college party guy to religious zealot just seemed weird to me. Which made the whole kidnapping plot a little more hard to swallow. I never really understood the point of his ramblings there. Did he believe Gabriel was the angel? Did he want to bring the knowledge of the angels back? What was his point. He just seemed to be crazy for the sake of craziness and not really have a true place in this book. It really made the reading of the book disjointed and made it seem like you were reading two different books at times.
Despite my confusion reading the book it was a good read. I did enjoy Cullen’s story. Where there a few too many asides about people turning into zombies? Maybe, but we are delving into the mind of a teen boy and that could be what he was thinking about. I think Whaley really captured small town life in Cullen’s story. I just wish the two plots were woven together better. This is definitely a book that makes you think and kind of makes you want to reread it just to see how the two plots go together once you know they do.
Great debut novel about a small town boy in Arkansas. Cullen lives in Lily, Arkansas where nothing ever changes until everything does. The same day that a man announces that he has seen an extinct woodpecker in the woods, Cullen’s younger brother goes missing. Told in alternating story lines, Where Things Come Back is about growing up, family, young love, and small town life. I highly recommend this book.
Now here’s a book that I’m still thinking about over a week after reading it.
Cullen lives in Lily, Arkansas. It’s a really small town, about four thousand people. Cullen is used to the drudgery of small-town life. Then a couple of things happen that turn both Cullen’s life and the town itself upside-down. First, a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct may have been spotted in town. The Lazarus woodpecker becomes the town’s rallying point as ornithologists and tourists crowd in to see if they can spot the bird for themselves. Second, around the time that the woodpecker appears, Cullen’s younger brother, Gabriel, vanishes without a trace.
Interspersed with Cullen’s story is the seemingly unrelated (at first) story that begins with a young missionary who fails in his mission, but brings the apocryphal texts from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church to the attention of his college roommate, Cabot.
While it’s a quick read, there’s a lot going on here. So much that I’m still processing it. I loved how everything eventually fits together, even if I’m still not 100% sure what exactly happened at the end. I love that it is left to the reader to decide. So many books like to tie everything up with a tidy little bow, but this is not the case here. It may not be the book for everyone, but those willing to take a chance will find themselves rewarded.
This is also the 2012 Printz Award winner.