Monday, February 18, 2013

In Darkness by Nick Lake

 A boy lived in the Site in Haiti, a place of extreme poverty and violence.  Injured in a gun fight, he is in a hospital when the earthquake happens, trapping him beneath the building.  He remembers all that has happened to land him in this darkness, and his memories are interspersed with the memories of Toussaint l'Ouverture, the revolutionary leader who helped to free Haiti.

In Darkness just won the Printz award, so I had high expectations.  And it was a good book.  It was brutal and honest and thought provoking.  It told the story of modern Haiti, as well as telling the history of Haiti.  Despite this, it was just a good book, not an awesome, amazing book, at least for me.  It took me a while to get through it, because it just wasn't a book the grabbed me and held me riveted.  It was easy to put down.

You know what was really interesting?  I only realized that the main character's actual name is never given when I went to write this review and realized I didn't know what to call him.  He's called a variety of things throughout the book, but none of them are his actual name.  In the book blurb, he is referred to as "Shorty," which he is often called by the member of his gang, so I guess I will call him that too for lack of anything better.

This is another book that has taught me about a piece of history I knew little about - the rebellion of the black Haitian slaves and how they claimed their country from the French.  They were lead in this rebellion by Toussaint l'Ouverture, who modern day young people in Haiti look to as a symbol of freedom.  I am interested to read about l'Ouverture and see how much of his documented life matches up with what was in In Darkness.  Vodou (the religion) was a major part of both Shorty and l'Ouverture's stories.  l'Ouverture was supposedly filled with the spirit of Ogou Badagry, the lwa of war, and this is what allowed him to lead his people.  In the story, l'Ouverture had visions of the future Haiti, just as Shorty began having visions of the past.  The two were connected.

Shorty's life was hard and sad.  It was interesting to see how influenced the gangs of Haiti were by the rappers of the United States.  The two rival gangs in the Site were called Route 9 and Boston.  I would like to know more about that, and why they took those particular names.  The Site is filled with drugs, violence and poverty.  And the people aren't allowed out. This is supposed to protect the rest of Haiti from the violence, but it does not help the people trapped inside.  In Darkness did a good job of showing how trapped everyone was.  For the most part, people didn't want to kill other people.  They didn't want to sell drugs.  But there wasn't a whole lot of choice.  If you wanted money, you joined a gang.  And it's not like not joining a gang made you safe.  It was easy to get caught up in the constant cross-fire.

Shorty tells his story, starting from his and his twin sister's birth, to when he lost her, to being determined to find her, to joining Route 9, to killing people.  It was clear that Shorty was very smart, and given other chances could have been an engineer or something.  But trapped in the Site all he could aspire to be was a gangster at the top of the food chain, destine to die young.

I think I also enjoyed the Shorty sections more than the l'Ouverture sections because Shorty was such a fully developed character with a unique voice.  Less so with l'Ouverture.  He was less real for me, and so was his story, but perhaps that was just because it was in the past and I cared more about what was happening to Shorty.

Despite the fact that his won the Printz award, which is YA, I really think it's more on a middle school level, not that high school students couldn't read it and enjoy it.

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