Lake, Nick. (2012). In Darkness. New York, NY: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781599907437
Shorty is a fifteen-year-old boy trapped in a hospital that has collapsed after an earthquake devastated the island of Haiti. Surrounded by death, and slowly dying himself, Shorty slips in and out of consciousness. With death on the horizon, he begins to have hallucinations of Toussaint L’Ouverture, a Haitian revolutionary leader from two hundred years ago. Both Shorty and L’Ouverture start to experience life and Haiti from a new perspective.
In Darkness shifts back and forth between consciousness and lucidity, between Shorty’s life and Toussaint L’Ouverture and between the present and the past and it does so effortlessly. The lines are blurred but they are enthralling. Nick Lake does not shy away from some harsh and haunting truths of life in Haiti. Shorty witnesses the murder of his father and kidnapping of his sister and is immersed in Haiti’s drug and gang culture. Despite the wrong path Shorty seems to be going down prior to the earthquake, you want to feel hopeful for him. You want him to escape the hospital and his past, and find his sister. Readers are exposed to some dark subjects such as gangs, violence, murder, drugs, government corruption, and infanticide, but its called In Darkness after all, isn’t it? The title not only hints to Shorty’s physical state in a dark hospital room but to the history and current state of Haiti as a nation as well. This is a gripping and unsympathetic tale told in a complex way with some ruthless characters.
My biggest problem with this book is not so much a problem for me, but perhaps for Young Adult literature. It has been said that “young readers deserve books with happy endings” (Nielson et al. 120) and that there should be a hopeful air to them. In Darkness provides the reader with only a glimmer of hope. While Shorty’s story ends “in light”, L’Ouverture’s does not. This is not an easy book to read. In the author’s note Lake says, “If you were hoping that some of the more unpleasant things you have just read were made up, then I apologize.” On the flipside, part of what makes In Darkness so riveting is that it is so raw and unapologetic. Lake tried his best to stay true to L’Ouverture and to Haiti, which means that the harsher aspects will not be subtle. This book is fiction, but it is close enough to the truth that the reality of it all might haunt you.
Nilsen, A., Blasingame, J., Donelson, K., & Nilsen, D. (2012). Literature for today’s young adults. (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson.