In Darkness by Nick Lake

Nick Lake configures multiple truths in this novel about Haiti. The historical component, set in the 1800's, integrates people who existed and experienced the actual events related here.  Modern day Haiti is set in Site Soléy, one of the poorest and most dangerous slums in the world. He populates it with both real and fictional characters living lives trapped in poverty in the way many Haitians experience life today. Lake has called down some powerful magic to masterfully merge these realities.

The 2010 earthquake has left fifteen year old Shorty trapped in the dark under a caved in hospital. As he waits, slowly dying, he recalls his life and how he came to be a a gangster.

Toussaint, a slave, attends what he thinks will be a sham voodoo ritual calling down the Iwa of war, Ogou Badagry. His companion, Boukman, hopes that in doing so, their slave rebellion will be successful. Much to everyone's amazement, it is Toussaint's body that is possessed by a spirit.  

Magically the characters of Toussaint and Shorty are cemented together across time and space with each retaining the other's memories and skills. As the story unfolds readers come to understand how Haiti's history led it to what it has become. 

This is dark magical realism, a disturbing tale embedded with Haitian religion and mysticism.  The characters are complex and not always likeable. The setting is depressing. In spite of all this, there is a glimmer of hope - certainly for Shorty, but maybe for Haiti itself. 

I couldn't put it down except to do a bit of research on the history of Haiti. (I'm not sure this was a good idea - I recommend you finish the story first)

This is not a book that will work for many of my grade 7's. But I have learned from past experience that it is exactly the kind of book that some of them want and need to turn them into avid readers. As soon as it is in paperback I will get a copy for our school. 

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