LAKE, Nick. In Darkness. 352p. Bloomsbury. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-743-7; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-820-5. LC 2011022350.
Gr 9 Up–Trapped in the rubble of Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake, teenage Shorty desperately waits for rescue. While in darkness, events of his traumatic, violent life replay in his head. He is haunted by his father’s brutal murder, his twin sister’s disappearance, and the armed gang activity that has been his means of survival in Site Soléy (Cite Soleil), a very real and dangerous slum. As he faces death and struggles to understand the external forces that have shaped him, Shorty gradually feels the uplifting spiritual presence of revered slave liberator Toussaint L’Ouverture and draws strength and hope from the man’s extraordinary life, determination, and idealism. The pervasive Haitian voodoo belief in spirit transfer empowers Shorty and connects him with Touissant across time. In alternating chapters of “Now” and “Then,” Shorty’s and Toussaint’s stories unfold. The relentless oppression, poverty, violence, and instability of the country is vividly conveyed through Shorty’s stark, graphic narrative. Toussaint’s story provides historical background for the socioeconomic and political conflicts that continue today. As the author notes, he portrays the essential spirit and history of Touissant with some omissions and simplifications. For example, Touissant learned to read as a boy, and not late in life, but this factual inaccuracy does not diminish the account of his charisma and significance. The entangled actions of gangs and government, the complicated relationship between Haitians and foreign-aid organizations, and the rich mix of Creole and French patois provide insight and authenticity. A striking cast of characters, compelling tension as Shorty confronts his own death, and the reality and immediacy of Haiti’s precarious existence will captivate secondary readers.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC