Earthquake, I think, cos it’s the only thing that could smash everything up like this. When we were little, my sister and me, we would make cities out of the mud in the gutters of Site Soley, and then we would say we were dinosaurs or earthquakes and stomp those cities to nothing.
The devastation I pictured in my head never got close to this, though. From above, Haiti looks like it’s been wiped off the earth by an angry god.
–In Darkness, Nick Lake
Every winter, committees of book-obsessed library folk convene in secret to discuss the hundreds of titles published in the previous year and bestow honors on the best of the bunch. The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (which we’ve blogged about here and there) is presented by one such committee each year to honor the best book written for teens.
The story begins with a 15 year-old boy named Shorty who lives in Site Soley, one of the most dangerous, poverty-stricken slums in the world. When his twin sister is captured by a rival gang, Shorty finds himself drawn into the fold of the chimères—violent gangsters from his neighborhood who run their own system of law and order amid the chaos of life in the slum. Soon his dangerous activities within the gang land him in the hospital with a gunshot wound in the arm. That’s when the 2010 earthquake hits, devastating much of Haiti and leaving Shorty trapped deep beneath the rubble of the collapsed hospital—in total darkness.
As he struggles to survive among the rats and bodies around him, Shorty clutches a pwen—a stone given to him by one of the gang’s leaders, which is said to be imbued with a god’s spirit, keeping its owner safe from death. In the darkness, Shorty contemplates the voudou beliefs of his people, which hold that the boundaries between the living and the dead are not as fixed as they may appear. As hunger and thirst overwhelm him, Shorty begins having strange flashbacks into another man’s life as his story is interwoven with the tale of Toussaint l’Ouverture, a Haitian slave who led the 1791 rebellion that transformed Haiti into a free society.
How is it possible for Shorty to experience the memories of a man who has been dead for hundreds of years? Is the ghost of Toussaint l’Ouverture descending on Shorty to lead him into the land of the dead under the sea? Are their two souls linked by some strange twist of voudou magic? Or is Shorty just slowly wasting away into madness as he waits to die in the darkness?
Grab a copy of the book to see what happens. Does In Darkness measure up to your favorites from 2012?