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In Darkness, by Nick Lake

27 Mar

2012, Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1-59990-743-7

Plot Summary: In Darkness tells the story of Shorty, a teenaged boy trapped in the rubble of a hospital after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. A gang member who killed his first man at 10, Shorty’s violent lifestyle lands him in the hospital after being shot in the arm – right before the earthquake. His hopes for rescue are fading fast. While trapped in the rubble, he recalls his life and drifts in and out of dreams where he becomes Toussaint l’Ouverture, am 18th century Haitian revolutionary. He feels as if l’Ouverture is reaching out to him through these dreams, and this spurs him to survive.

Shorty grew up in a divided Haiti, witnessing a gang attack on his home that ended with his father’s murder by machete and his twin sister’s kidnapping. He dedicates his life to finding her and falls in with the Route 9 gang, becoming the right hand man for Biggie, second in command to leader Dread Wilme. Haitian gang violence was often related to politics – the army that supported Aristede, the Haitian president ousted in the military coup of 2004, became one gang faction, Route 9.

Readers also learn through Shorty’s dreams about the first Haitian revolution, led by 51-year-old slave Toussaint l’Ouverture, in the 18th century. l’Ouverture’s story seems a direct opposite to Shorty’s, with l’Ouverture’s desire for peace and a bloodless revolution contrasting with Shorty’s violent life, but the overall story – leading a revolution to unite the Haitian people – seems, in its own way, similar to what they both desire.

Critical Evaluation: In Darkness is a brutally honest story. Haiti’s troubles did not begin with the earthquake, and Shorty’s narrative makes this abundantly clear. Switching between stories of Haiti’s past and present will provide readers with a strong background on Haiti’s history and provide the beginnings of understanding on the politically motivated violence there. Shorty’s voice is important, because here we have a narrator who is a gang member, a drug dealer, and a murderer, but at the same time, sympathetic and a victim. Haiti’s history is his history. This realistic piece of fiction is a well-written, strong book that should provoke conversations in and out of the classroom on many fronts.

Reviews: Publishers Weekly:  “The narrative is as disturbing as it is challenging… the portrait it reveals of a country relegated throughout history to brutality and neglect is powerful and moving.”

VOYA: “Lake does not shy from the graphic depiction of life in past or present Haiti… Such grittiness elevates his story above and beyond more typical historical fiction and gives the events an edge not found in classroom social studies lessons.”  

Kirkus Reviews: “A tale of two Haitis—one modern, one historic—deftly intertwine in a novel for teens and adults. Timed for the second anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, this double-helix-of-a-story explores the nature of freedom, humanity, survival and hope. A dark journey well worth taking—engrossing, disturbing, illuminating.”

Awards: No awards as yet – just released in January.

Reader’s Annotation: Trapped in the rubble of the Haitian earthquake, a young gang-banger thinks back on his life and wonders if he will survive, or if he’s already dead.

Author Information: Author Nick Lake’s In Darkness website provides information and excerpts from the book; the site also provides links to the music mentioned in the book and a background on Haiti’s history. The author’s page at his UK publisher, Simon and Schuster, offers limited information on his other books.

Genre: Realistic fiction. Subgenres: gang violence, Haiti, political violence, natural disaster.

Booktalking Ideas: Do you think that Shorty would have grown up to lead a gang lifestyle if he hadn’t been exposed to the violence he experienced when his father was killed? What was his sister’s on him, and would she have kept him on the straight and narrow if she hadn’t been taken? At what point do you believe your background influences what you become, and can you overcome that?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14+

Challenge Issues/Defense: Violence, gang activity, and drug use, language. Defense: This is a look at what has been happening in Haiti for years – you can turn on the news and see this playing out.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

The concept of a story told by a survivor of the earthquake was interesting. That he was such a complex character piqued my interest.

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