This is the third and final part of Nick Lake day on the blog, a review of the stunning In Darkness.
I knew the book would be good, but I still still surprised at how much it moved me.
Published January 17th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens (first published January 5th 2012)
Format read: Finished copy courtesy of publisher
A modern teen and a black slave, separated by hundreds of years. Yet in some strange way, the boy in the ruins of Port au Prince and the man who led the struggle for Haiti's independence might well be one and the same . . .
The professor's primary purpose in asking this question was always the same: the ebb and flow of culture and literature have sometimes meant that there are regions in the world who don't always have the strongest representation in the literary spectrum. However, we should still never overlook these regions as readers, because they also likely have some of the best and most memorable stories for us.
It's for that reason, I wish my professor - who sadly passed away in 2011 - had been around to read Nick Lake's In Darkness. Awarded the Printz award in 2013, it's a spectacular tale that intertwines two very different Haitis - one that is the reality of the protagonist, and one that is the imagined history of the real Haitian Liberation.
Readers are introduced to "Shorty", a world-weary child of the slums of Port-au-Prince, who has become trapped in a hospital in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. As Shorty struggles to stay alive and await rescue, he begins a hallucination that takes him between his own gang-ridden past, his life-threatening present, and the imagined past of real-life Haitian hero/revolutionary Toussaint l’Ouverture, who helped transform the country into a republic.
Lake patiently interweaves three separate timelines into Shorty's singular story, doing so in a way that doesn't hesitate to immerse readers into the violence, turmoil and devastation of a very troubling part of the world, while also showing us through Toussaint l’Ouverture, how this country's very troubled past has always had a firm foundation of hope. It's this foundation of hope that will also guide and lead Shorty to his own potential future.
While readers will undoubtedly find some of the violence, pain and suffering of the Shorty and the secondary characters difficult to read, Lake's gifted storytelling techniques - including his reference to many of the mythical elements of Haitian culture - also means that the reader will come to care for the fate of these characters in a way that will leave them riveted and connected until the very end.
Things to consider:
I personally felt like that made the reading experience more authentic, and got me into the head of "Shorty", in a way that I would have never expected. However, I can also see this writing style putting off some readers who may go into the book unaware. So my advice is to be: know it's coming, and then enjoy the beauty of Lake's writing and how it involves you in the story.
I recommend this for all readers. Full stop. This isn't a tale that is specific to readers of a certain genre, or a certain age. This is a tale with universality and longevity, which will illuminate and enlighten readers on humanity and Haiti's complex history.