In Darkness by Nick Lake

12 Feb

imagesBibliographic Information

In Darkness by Nick Lake, Bloomsbury, New York, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-59990-743-7

Plot Summary

“In darkness, I count my blessings, like Manman taught me.

One: I am alive.

Two: there is no two.”

When In Darkness opens, 15-year-old Shorty is trapped under a collapsed building after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010.  Just before the earthquake hit, Shorty was in the hospital recovering from a bullet wound, the result of a gang retaliation he helped organize and execute.  Now that he’s trapped, he recounts his story of how he became involved with the drug dealing gang and how his life began, and may end, “in darkness.”

Interspersed between Shorty’s narrative is another story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian slave who led the first successful uprising against the French and English in order to free his people. Like Shorty, Toussaint has to fight for survival.  The French want desperately to keep control of Haiti (and keep the lucrative slave trade) and fight Toussaint’s army with more men, better ships and better weapons.

As Toussaint’s and Shorty’s stories unfold, the reader starts to see parallels in their struggles until finally the two characters become one in their fight for better lives and a better Haiti.

Critical Evaluation

In Darkness just won the 2012 Printz Award for Young Adult Literature and it’s easy to see why.  The novel is imaginatively written, well researched, and exciting from its opening to closing pages.  The dual narratives, number of characters, and sometimes graphic violence may be too much for younger readers.  But older readers will walk away from this novel with a better understanding of Haiti’s history, its people, and unique culture.

Shorty and Toussaint’s stories travel in opposite trajectories.  Shorty’s story is about the loss of innocence.  After seeing his father murdered and his sister abducted, Shorty’s heart fills with revenge against the gang that has destroyed his family.  This revenge makes him a killer and even though it’s hard to see what other options he might have growing up in one of the poorest slums on the planet, the reader still grieves as this young boy’s life spirals out of control.

Toussaint’s story, on the other hand, is of a middle-aged man emerging as his nation’s hero.  Author Lake does a terrific job of humanizing Toussaint, a man who has become mythologized for his role in winning Haiti its freedom.  What we see here is not only the brilliant strategist, but also a man who struggled with fear and doubt.  It is only because he doesn’t let his heart be ruled by hate and revenge that he’s able to not only free but save his country.

Switching back and forth between a story of Haiti’s past and Haiti’s present, it’s easy to get depressed about what’s happened in the country.  Toussaint is an idealist who fights for his people’s freedom.  Fast forward 200 years and we have Shorty, a young boy living in one of the poorest slums in the world, caught up in never-ending gang warfare.  Toussaint’s dream has clearly not become a reality, but Lake doesn’t leave the reader without hope.  There is forgiveness and redemption in the novel.  Through its alternating stories, Lake makes the reader want to learn more about Haiti’s past and do more to protect its future.

Information about the author

The author writes on his author page, “My name’s Nick and I write books for younger readers. My latest, BLOOD NINJA, is about ninjas who are also vampires – because the only thing more awesome than a ninja is a vampire ninja.

I like all the things you like, and I hate all the things you hate. I swear.

I live in a picture-postcard village in Oxfordshire, protected by trip-wires, boobytraps and a fat, lazy tomcat. Life in a picture-postcard village is very nice, but it’s a bit two-dimensional.”


Historical Fiction

Reading Level / Interest Age

Grade 10 and up



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