Shorty is a fifteen year old gangster, rolling with older boys and policing ‘The Site’, a run down, fenced in, poverty stricken area of his city. The boys are playing at being gangsters, listening to rap music and daydreaming about becoming famous rappers, carrying guns and promoting violence. But they can do this because no one seems to care what poor, disillusioned black children are doing in the slums in Haiti. Or at least no one seems to really care until the earthquake hits.
Suddenly, Shorty’s world is plunged into darkness and he is imprisoned in a tomb of rubble, rotting corpses and rats. It is here that Shorty begins to recount his story and the events that led him to this darkness. We learn about his missing twin sister, the fate of his father and how he coped with life in ‘The Site’. There is a strong culture of voodoo and black magic in ‘The Site’ with many believing the bones of the dead, pwn stones and calling the spirits of the dead will save them from a gruesome death. This belief opens the door for a parallel narrative that as many strong connections to Shorty’s story. The parallel narrative recounts the life of Touissant, a black slave in Haiti in the 1700s. The slaves are rebelling against their white French plantation owners and beginning to gain their rights and freedoms. Both narratives have strong links to black magic culture and the both stories move towards a point where the narratives become one.
In Darkness is the third book I have read for the Carnegie Medal Award and my school book club (although the first meeting isn’t until Friday, I just wanted a head start). Personally, I did not like this novel at all. I found it confusing to follow to begin with as it was flicking between many time periods and talking about voodoo and magic and things I know little about. Even when I figured out what was happening I still didn’t become enthralled in the book. In fact last night when I knew I wanted to finish it I was constantly watching my % counter on the Kindle waiting for the end. Yes it is an interesting choice of subject and I can almost see why it was shortlisted, but for me it was not an engaging story and I found it really difficult to relate to the characters and the narrative. I know very little about the Haitian earthquake and I think this will be a similar situation with the students in the book club, and as far as my recollection of school history goes, Haiti isn’t a place that is mentioned or studied in relation to the slave trade. I appreciate that it is important to give voices to those who haven’t had an opportunity to tell their story, and I applaud Lake for doing that, but for me this doesn’t achieve that in the most memorable or exciting way. Sadly not a winner in my eyes…which probably means the students will love it as that is sod’s law.