Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review: In Darkness

I've been following awards season for movies like the obsessive fan I am for two decades now, but I've never paid attention to the literary version of the Oscars, which were announced at the end of January at the midwinter session of ALA... that is, until this year. I watched the reveal of the winner and nominees of this year's Michael L. Printz award live, holding my breath with excitement, wondering if I'd see a familiar title or, better yet, be introduced to new titles I otherwise wouldn't have heard of.

That's what's so great about the Printz award: I find great books I might never have read. As much as I might have loved something great like The Fault in Our Stars to win the Printz award, that book's so damn popular it was never necessary. The Printz award highlights more obscure titles, ones that don't necessarily reach the top of bestseller lists. So of course I was immediately intrigued by this year's winner of the award, In Darkness, by Nick Lake. I'd never heard of it. I'd never heard of the author. I immediately put a hold on the title at the local library, and discovered I had just reserved the ONLY copy available in all of Reno's library system.

After reading the entertaining but pretty fluffy Beautiful Creatures, I was ready to settle down with a more serious, more life-affirming YA read, so the timing of In Darkness couldn't have been better. The writing in this book is pretty striking, and it deals with the kinds of horrors many of us can only imagine in our heads. There are two story lines interweaved throughout the narrative, one in contemporary 2010 Haiti, the other in 17th century France. The first story deals with 15-year-old Shorty, as he deals with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. The second deals with Toussaint L'Ouverture, a Haitian slave who led a revolution. My main issue with the book was that I was always more interested in getting back to Shorty, and his journey, than Toussaint. There's more immediacy to Shorty's struggle to survive, and more danger.

The book actually reminded me a lot of Ship Breaker, which Shaunta and I just read a few weeks ago for our Book of the Month, basically that in each a young boy is put through literal hell. (One moment that describes Shorty finding dead babies in trash cans was so disturbing I had to stop reading for a bit.) In Darkness is not an entertaining read by any means, not a book you kick back with for a half hour of pleasure reading, but it's an important novel, with a harrowing story, and fine, meticulous writing. I'm proud of the Printz award committee for picking a book like this, because now it's going to find more hands and more eyes. And in this case, that's a big plus.

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