In Darkness is a novel written by Nick Lake that recently won the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. This award is the teen literature equivalent of the Newbery award, which honors the most distinguished book written for children each year. Having read this book, I can most certainly testify that this novel is worthy of the award.
This novel is categorized under the genre realistic fiction, but personally, I found it to be more historical fiction. I am not and have never been a fan of historical fiction, but I found myself really touched by this novel. The story follows Shorty, a Haitian boy, trapped underneath a hospital following an earthquake. As he nears death, he ruminates on his life, and all of the things that he has done that he regrets, and all of the things that he will miss if he dies. I found this to be one of the most touching portions of this novel- Shorty is a very relatable character to the teenage audience that Lake writes to. He is angry, passionate, lovable, and honest. He has the same interests most teens have today- music, friendship, family, and school. His life in Haiti is interesting and captivating, and mostly shocking, because it shows the extreme poverty and violence that these Haitians live with.
Shorty’s story is entwined with the story of Toussaint l’Ouverture, the slave who led the rebellion for Haiti’s independence two hundred years prior. Although both of the characters are so different, Lake writes their stories together with shocking ease. Both characters are undergoing a war, l’Ouverture leading Haiti’s independence from France, and Shorty’s involvement in the gang wars. Through their stories, you see how Haiti was shaped, and the similarities between the Haiti of the past, and the Haiti of the present. Many Haitian rituals and phrases are included in the novel, making it seem very authentic and showing Lake’s passion for this subject and his dedication to his novel.
In Darkness was touching and passionate. It took me a while to get used to the switching of the viewpoints from Shorty to l’Ouverture, but I found the exchanging of the viewpoints made me more invested in each story. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen in each of the characters’ lives next. Some readers might find this story desolate and hopeless, but there were various parts of the novel that shined with optimism, most notably Shorty’s angelic lost sister, Marguerite. Other reviewers have said that the novel is inappropriate for younger readers, because of the amount of expletives and violence, but I think that it is truthful and would be a great read for any young adult reader.
I highly recommend this novel overall, and I think it definitely deserves the Michael L. Printz Award.
-Brianna M., 11th grade