A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the 2013 Printz Award-winning In Darkness is a violent, disturbing novel that's nevertheless fascinating and emotionally powerful. The bleak life of Shorty, who was born in the Haitian slums of Site Solèy and seems to have no hope for a better future, is tempered by the second narrative of the historical figure Toussaint L'Ouverture, who leads the slaves of Haiti to freedom during the 18th century. However, Toussaint's story is a violent one, too, and Shorty is a gang member who has seen and done many awful things.
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What's the story?
Shorty wakes to find himself under a pile of rubble. The last thing he remembers is being in the hospital after he was shot in a gang war, and now he is lying among dead bodies after Haiti's huge earthquake of 2010, hoping someone will find him. Meanwhile, Toussaint has joined a group of slaves in a voudou ceremony to discover who will lead the slaves to freedom; he is shocked to find it is himself. When their spirits are connected through an ancient voudou ritual, Shorty and Toussaint begin to inhabit each other's minds, and their stories unfold in alternating narratives. As Shorty remembers the details of his short life that brought him to the present day and Toussaint's rebellion grows successfully across Haiti, it becomes clear that both are caught up in destinies over which they have little control.
Is it any good?
Though often hard to take because of the brutal violence at almost every turn, IN DARKNESS is an absorbing and haunting story. The alternating settings of past and present keep the reader involved, and Shorty and Toussaint are complex and real. Though Toussaint is an easy character to root for, Shorty is a much more complicated mixture of good and bad, and the way Lake explores his psyche by offering experiences that align with his jaded worldview and yet somehow keep his hope and sense of humor alive is amazing. For readers who have the stomach for the brutality and tragedy of a life lived in Haiti's slums, reading this book will be an ultimately rewarding experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the device the author used of having Shorty and Toussaint inhabit each other's minds. How does this help to connect the two stories? Do you think the two characters are at all alike?
What are some of the positive qualities Shorty sees in the gang members Biggie and Tintin?
How well you think you'd do if you were trapped in rubble after an earthquake? What would you think about as you waited to be rescued?
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