“This is a work of fiction. That said, much in it is true. If you were hoping that some of the more unpleasant things you have just read were made up, then I apologise.” - Nick Lake, Author's Note
Toussaint L'ouverture turned his dreams of creating an independent, free black state into reality when he led the Haitian revolution. This revolution is, to this day, regarded as one of the most successful slave uprisings of all time and is the only one of its kind which led to the founding of a new state. The success of the revolution was felt across the globe and gave new hope to slaves and abolitionists in other countries. Its message was clear: freedom is possible.
A catastrophic earthquake hits Haiti, approximately 25km from Port-au-Prince, killing over 200,000 people and having devastating effects on the lives of more than 3,000,000. Many buildings were severely damaged and some collapsed entirely, taking the lives of those nearby. Tens of thousands of bodies piled up in morgues and had to be buried in mass graves. Into this disaster, comes Nick Lake's story of a 15 year old boy who is trapped in darkness underneath the rubble.
If I didn't already know that this was a Printz winner, I would have been placing bets on it because [b:In Darkness|11451112|In Darkness|Nick Lake|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1329102541s/11451112.jpg|16385066] is one sophisticated piece of young adult fiction. One that will probably go unread by most unless they get forced to read it in school which, I know from experience, drains pretty much all the goodness out of the very best books. Other than that, though, this is a particularly hard one to sell to teens. Historical fiction ain't too popular with the kids anyway and, let's face it, only the most dedicated of teen book lovers are going to go out of their way to pick up something about the Haitian earthquake. Don't mean to sound patronising to younger readers, it's just generally true.
So, let me convince you?
There's something people miss out on when they turn their noses up at historical novels - and that is the clever interweaving of fact and fiction to make a story which is all the more powerful because of it's (perceived or otherwise) proximity to the truth. I guess this is also true of a good dystopian novel (but I could write an essay on that so I'll move on). I love a book that teaches you something you didn't know before, whilst simultaneously dragging you into a fascinating story. Lake is juggling many things here; history lessons in one hand, a survival story in the other, complex exploration of a trapped boy's mind in there somewhere too. I don't know how it all works so well... but it does.
As was hopefully somewhat evident from the start of this review, the book tells two stories. One is a re-imagining of the Haitian revolution, taking us inside the mind of Toussaint L'ouverture and showing how his desire for freedom grew and developed. The other story is about "Shorty", trapped down in the darkness in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake. In the dark, Shorty cannot be sure whether he is awake or dreaming; he is driven to the brink of insanity by his thirst and the heat. The only way he survives is to retreat inside his mind and recall his childhood, his mother, his sister and his hero - Toussaint L'ouverture.
This is a sad, gritty tale that looks at slavery, racism, culture clashes and survival. You should be warned: it's not an easy book to read at times. There were several scenes that turned my stomach and it should be noted that this is definitely "mature YA" - I'm particularly thinking of the descriptions of violence and rape when I say this. And I mean it when I say it's sad. I'm really not much of a crier when it comes to books and movies but this one had me tearing up a couple of times. And I haven't even started in on the claustrophobia! Do I really need to say it? Small space... under rubble... complete darkness... ultimate nightmare. The only thing worse than being buried alive must be being buried alive with rats - oh yeah, there's rats.
I really do applaud Nick Lake for the amount of research that must have gone into this incredible novel and I think that Printz award was very much deserved. More people need to read this.