In Darkness by Nick Lake | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
In Darkness

In Darkness

4.1 7
by Nick Lake

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Winner of the 2013 Michael L. Printz Award

This is the story of "Shorty"-a 15-year-old boy trapped in a collapsed hospital during the earthquake in Haiti. Surrounded by the bodies of the dead, increasingly weak from lack of food and water, Shorty begins to hallucinate. As he waits in darkness for a rescue that may never come, a mystical bridge seems to


Winner of the 2013 Michael L. Printz Award

This is the story of "Shorty"-a 15-year-old boy trapped in a collapsed hospital during the earthquake in Haiti. Surrounded by the bodies of the dead, increasingly weak from lack of food and water, Shorty begins to hallucinate. As he waits in darkness for a rescue that may never come, a mystical bridge seems to emerge between him and Haitian leader Toussaint L'Ouverture, uniting the two in their darkest suffering-and their hope.

A modern teen and a black slave, separated by hundreds of years. Yet in some strange way, the boy in the ruins of Port au Prince and the man who led the struggle for Haiti's independence might well be one and the same . . .

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Shorty, 15, is trapped in the rubble of a hospital following the 2010 earthquake that left Haiti in ruins. As time wears on without rescue, he relives the journey that brought him to the hospital with a bullet wound, recounting his life running drugs and gunning down enemies for one of Site Solèy’s most notorious gangs. In a startling but successful feat of literary imagination, Lake (the Blood Ninja series) pairs Shorty’s story with that of Toussaint l’Ouverture, the 18th-century slave who led the revolt that forced out the island’s French colonizers. The narrative is as disturbing (people are hacked to death, an encephalitic baby is found alive in a trash pile) as it is challenging; the book moves back and forth in time from Shorty’s fictional first-person account, shot through with street slang and Creole, to Toussaint’s story, told in third-person. But the portrait it reveals of a country relegated throughout history to brutality and neglect is powerful and moving, as readers come to understand that Shorty is held captive by more than just the ceiling that fell on him. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

“A vivid and unforgettable voice ... incredibly moving.” —The Times

“Unputdownable” —Daily Mail

“Gripping ... beautifully subtle.” —New York Times

“Both violent and subtle, unexpectedly reminding me of The Wire. Characters, settings, and the half-believed Haitian vodou religion are handled with patience and complexity ... A serious, nuanced, challenging novel. Trust me, there are plenty of young readers who hunger for exactly that.” —Patrick Ness, Guardian

“Remarkable ... Lake's elegant, restrained prose and distinct characters will reward adults and older teenagers able to brave a story with strong language, harrowing scenes of brutality and an almost painful stab of joy at the end.” —Wall Street Journal

VOYA - Matthew Weaver
Shorty is a budding gang member in Haiti when the 2010 earthquake occurs, leaving him buried and not certain whether he is alive, a ghost, or a "zombi." Shorty reflects back on the events that led him to his current situation—the abduction of his twin sister, Marguerite, the murder of his father by other gang members, and his friendship with fellow gangsta Biggie. Through the use of a voudou pwen, a stone given to him by real-life disputed Haitian civil rights leader/gangster/martyr Dread Wilme, Shorty is cosmically linked to another figure right out of the history books. In a bold storytelling move ripe for reader discussion, Toussaint L'Ouverture also sees Shorty's future as he leads a slave rebellion during the Haitian Revolution. In Darkness is provocative, daring, and sure to be polarizing. Lake does not shy from the graphic depiction of life in past or present Haiti. Toussaint watches as slave owners murder a baby and hack away at a dying slave; Shorty and Marguerite rescue a baby with hydro-encephalitis from the trash. Such grittiness elevates his story above and beyond more typical historical fiction and gives the events an edge not found in classroom social studies lessons. Lake says in an author's note that little in the book is made up; to him, even the supernatural elements feel real. There is little oasis to be found in the darkness. All the same, readers are sure to have a hard time looking away. Reviewer: Matthew Weaver
Children's Literature - Nancy Partridge
The setting is Haiti after the earthquake of 2010. Shorty is a teenage boy trapped under a collapsed building there. Alone and in total darkness, he lapses in and out of consciousness as he reflects on his life. Part truth and part fantastic fiction, a picture emerges of a boy who is held captive not only by stone and earth, but also by the history of his troubled culture. The book moves back and forth in time from Shorty's first-person account of his childhood in Site Soley, the major Haitian slum run by thugs and drug runners, to a third-person narrative of revolutionary leader Toussaint L'Ouverture, who led an actual slave revolt in Haiti in the 18th century. Their stories alternate by chapters. Shorty's voice and street slang contrast sharply with the slightly academic and detached manner of L'Ouverture's story. Voodoo and violence abound in both realities; for example, L'Overture attends a ceremony to invoke possession by dead spirits, and Shorty sees his own father killed. As he lies dying beneath the rubble, the boy dreams he is the black revolutionary; similarly, L'Ourverture dreams of flying as a young boy into a future Haiti, free from slavery, but lying in the ruins of some great natural disaster. The two share a single soul, and their intertwined destinies paint a dark and trembling portrait of a country relegated through the centuries to darkness and neglect. While the transition between the two narratives is not always smooth, the book is incredibly powerful and does its job well. Lake clarifies what is real and what is not in an "Author's Note" at the end. Readers will certainly come away with a much deeper cultural awareness than any factual account of the natural disaster could ever achieve. While the raw depictions of violence and black magic make the book inappropriate for younger grades, it is sure to inspire lively and engaged discussion in high school classrooms. Reviewer: Nancy Partridge
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Nick Lake's harrowing story (Bloomsbury, 2012) about Shorty, a young Haitian earthquake victim, is brought to life through Benjamin Darcie's reading. His accent and cadence transport listeners to Haiti where they learn about the country's history and the contemporary events surrounding the earthquake. Shorty has spent his young life witnessing and perpetrating violence. He's in the hospital with a gunshot wound when the earthquake strikes and he's buried in rubble. Shorty tells his story as he waits to be rescued—or to die. Somehow he is also connecting with Francois-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture, former slave and leader of the late 19th-century Haitian Revolution. In this way, Haiti's history is woven into the story. Even before the horror and destruction of the earthquake, Shorty has endured the brutal murder of his father, the abduction of his twin sister, and numerous gang-related killings. The parallels between contemporary Haiti and the country during the revolution are deftly drawn and will lead to interesting classroom discussions about freedom, poverty, loyalty/betrayal, slavery, hope/despair, and more. As Shorty is rescued and reunited with his mother, listeners have the sense that he has changed and has learned something profound while struggling to survive in the darkness.—Cynthia Ortiz, Hackensack High School Library, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
A tale of two Haitis—one modern, one historic—deftly intertwine in a novel for teens and adults. Readers first meet Shorty under the rubble of the recent earthquake, as he struggles to make sense of his past, present and future. Through flashbacks, they learn of his gangster life in a dangerous Port-au-Prince slum, where he searches for his twin sister, Marguerite, after they've been separated by gang violence. In his stressed state, Shorty communes with the spirit of Toussaint l'Ouverture, leader of the slave uprising that ultimately transformed Haiti into the world's first black republic. Lake (Blood Ninja II: The Revenge of Lord Oda, 2010, etc.) adeptly alternates chapters between "Now" (post-earthquake) and "Then" (circa turn-of-the-19th century). His minimalist, poetic style reveals respect for vodou culture, as well as startling truths: "In darkness, I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two." While the images of slavery and slum brutality are not for the faint-hearted, and Shorty's view of humanitarian workers may stir debate, readers will be inspired to learn more about Haiti's complex history. Timed for the second anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, this double-helix-of-a-story explores the nature of freedom, humanity, survival and hope. A dark journey well worth taking—engrossing, disturbing, illuminating. (author's note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Product Details

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Publication date:
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

NICK LA KE is the editorial director for fiction for HarperCollins Children's Books UK and the author of two previous novels. Nick became fascinated by Haitian culture while pursuing his master's degree in linguistics.

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