Written by: Nick Lake
Publication Info: 2012, Bloomsbury
One Line: Shorty is a 12-year-old Haitian boy trapped in the rubble after the earthquake, waiting for rescue, but somehow feeling like he is possessed by the spirit of former Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint l’Ouverture.
Brief Summary: Shorty is a 12-year-old Haitian boy from the slums of Site Soley, and he is trapped under rubble, not knowing how he got there or if he will be rescued. He tells his story, from birth until now, partially to make sense of it, partially to stay sane. He was born one of twins and watched his father murdered in front of him, and his beloved twin sister Marguerite kidnapped, by a gang when he was just a little boy. He spent the rest of his life trying to get back his sister, joining the gang that was the rival of the gang that took Marguerite, and engaging in horrible crimes. His story is intertwined with the story of famed Haitian slave and revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, who lived from 1743 to 1803, and led the slaves of Haiti against the
Thoughts: In Darkness is a difficult, violent, and sad book, because its main character is so young and his innocence so ruined. He has lost his family members. He has killed people. He has caused others to kill people. He is now in literal darkness, trapped in the rubble of a hospital, but darkness is also a metaphor for the way he has lived his life: kept in darkness about the truth of his world, but also in a world that is, itself, very dark, in the sense of being horrible and unforgiving. Birth and rebirth are also themes, as both Shorty and Toussaint experience their own rebirths. Magic and vodou – and whether they are real or not – are also intertwined within the story, and it is up to the reader to determine how real this magic is. In addition, the perhaps misguided interventions of the developed world are seen as a motif throughout, culminating in a UN official who has been the lover of a gangster taking their baby back to France after the gangster’s death.
The book is written almost as an adventure, and suspense builds as we learn what happened to Shorty, what he did that he needs to be forgiven for, and how Toussaint L’Ouverture’s story ends and is connected. Connecting that story is a brilliant move, as it highlights the way that, frighteningly, certain conditions have not improved in Haiti, even so many hundred years after the revolution, and that there must be ways to do better. The violence is graphic, but not gratuitous, and the language, while strong, seems authentic to Shorty’s world. Telling Shorty’s story in first person brings the reader close to him, while telling Toussaint’s in third person lends an air of credibility to the history.
The darkness that Shorty lives in, as mentioned above, extends to choices that others have made to keep him in the dark about different things in his life. His mother makes a choice to protect him, and it has drastic ramifications for their lives. Dread Wilme, the powerful gangster in Site Soley that Shorty works for while Dread is alive, also hides something from Shorty. The truth would have made Shorty’s life very different. Ultimately, the book is a hopeful and moving one, about what it means to move from darkness to light, but at age 12, no one should have to do it in this way.
Author Info: Fro www.in-darkness.org: “Nick Lake was born in Britain but grew up in Luxembourg from the age of 4, where his father was a civil servant with the European Parliament. Nick is the Editorial Director for fiction for HarperCollins Children's Books and is the author of The Secret Ministry of Frost and Blood Ninja. In Darkness, set in Haiti, is Nick's first book for adults and older teen readers. He first discovered Haitian culture as part of his Master's Degree in Linguistics and has since been fascinated by it. Nick lives near Oxford.”