Out of Darkness

10 CDs. 12:32 hrs. Listening Library. Apr. 2016. $65. ISBN 9780735289475. digital download.
RedReviewStarGr 9 Up—The 1937 school explosion in New London, TX, remains the deadliest school disaster in U.S. history. With that real-life tragedy as a starting point, Pérez adds greater volatility with race, class, and family dysfunction, by introducing a love story between two teens from different worlds in a tiny community where nothing remains hidden for long. Mexican American Naomi, 15, arrives from San Antonio with her younger twin half-siblings to live with the twins' white father, a born-again Christian too fond of the bottle. She's ostracized at her segregated school, even as boys objectify her and girls punish her for her outstanding beauty. The twins are first to make friends with Wash, an African American high school senior whose easy, caring manner Naomi can't ignore. As love grows, danger draws closer, with the most immediate threats at home. Narrator Benita Robledo moves effortlessly between rigid control and panicked acceleration, imbuing the multiple viewpoints with authenticity and empathy. Lincoln Hoppe's near-growling interruptions as "The Gang," a collective representation of racist classmates, remain menacingly foreboding throughout.
VERDICT Pérez's latest, recipient of a 2016 Printz Honor, is wide-eyed testimony to the undeniable best and unrelenting worst of humanity; turning away (or turning off) is never an option. ["Set against the backdrop of an actual historical event, Pérez's young adult novel gives voice to many long-omitted facets of U.S. history": SLJ 6/15 starred review of the Carolrhoda Lab book.]

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