Monday, March 11, 2013

In Darkness by Nick Lake

"When you keep hurting someone, you do one of three things. Either you fill them up with hate, and they destroy everything around them. Or you fill them up with sadness, and they destroy themselves. Or you fill them up with justice, and they try to destroy everything that's bad and cruel in this world" (87). 

Nick Lake’s In Darkness begins, well, in darkness. The literal darkness one finds when trapped beneath the rubble of the massive earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010. The figurative darkness of the young “chimére” (gangster) Shorty, who has grown up in Site Soléy, one of the poorest and most dangerous places in the world, a place where the sociopathic gang lord is also the person who has done the most good. And the moral darkness of a benighted government, whose constant corruption enslaves most of its citizens to a bleak future.

It was not supposed to be this way for Haiti, not after Toussaint L’Ouverture led the slave rebellion in the late 18th century, overthrowing the French colonizers. Haiti was to be a light for all the enslaved people in the world, a beacon for freedom. Using the ceremonies and belief system of “vodou,” Lake directly connects the lives of a contemporary teenage Haitian gangster and the (slightly re-imagined) historical figure of L’Ouverture: one a character filled with hate and bent on destruction, and the other yearning for justice, and bent on seeing it happen for his people and his nation.

 In Darkness is by no means an easy experience. Shorty’s world is violent (as is L’Ouverture’s), and the grim reality of life in Site Soléy retains the ability to shock even the most jaded reader. To his credit, Lake presents Site Soléy in all of its moral and spiritual complexities. And though L’Ouverture’s life ends in the darkness of a French prison cell, Shorty’s story ultimately gives us a ray of light. In Darkness was the recipient of the 2013 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

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