In Darkness by Nick Lake

in darknessBibliographic Information:

Lake, N. (2012). In darkness. New York: Bloomsbury. (ISBN 978-1599907437)

Plot Summary:

When an earthquake destroys the hospital where he was staying, fifteen-year-old Shorty is buried in the rubble. While he is waiting to be rescued or to die, he tells the reader the story of his life. In the darkness, he also makes a connection with Toussaint L’Ouverture, the slave who became the leader of the 18th-century Haitian revolution.

Through alternating chapters In Darkness  provides the reader the historical background so the reader can understand the systemic violence and poverty that is part of the real Haiti today.

Critical Evaluation:

When a novel’s plot revolves around a violent and bleak reality it can make for a difficult read. This is not the case with In Darkness. The events the plot is based on are an ugly reality. Shorty’s narration of his life with the death of his father, poverty, and killings he participated in hardly make him a sympathetic character. He is a self-described gangster.

Lake has added a mystical layer to the tale by merging the plot with Hatian mythology and religion.  Orenstein (2012) makes a great observation when she explains that “Shorty, L’Ouverture and Haiti itself are all connected to this metaphor [of the zombie] – each lost in darkness, near death…It’s a beautifully complex metaphor, but a disturbing way to bind a novel – that is, if you want to leave a young reader with hope.” In the end, Lake does leave the reader with hope through his two protagonists.

There is a very important element that takes this novel to another level and that is the strong and carefully crafted characters of Shorty and Toussaint. There is hope and beauty in these two men – and nobility. The plot reveals an internal struggle between that which is beautiful in life and the ugly and brutal. The language Lake uses adds to this internal struggle. Lake has pared away all the unnecessary words. I am sure his interest in linguistics was a benefit as he melded together the various languages and dialects of Haiti. The result is a narrative that is both lyrical and descriptive.

Reader’s Annotation:

A gritty story about a young boy and an old man trying to create meaning in a culture that sees them as little more than beasts.

Information About the Author:

Nick Lake is the Editorial Director for fiction at HarperCollins Children’s Books UK. during the day. Although In Darkness is his first book for adults and teens, he has published a couple of children’s books including the Blood Ninja trilogy.

He lives in England but he grew up in Luxembourg. He received a degree in English from Oxford University (Nick Lake biography). He has a Master’s Degree in Linguistics.

For more information please see Nick Lake’s website


  • Realistic fiction
  • Historical fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • Social justice course
  • World Issues
  • English

Booktalking Ideas:

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence
  • Language

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

This book is one of the reasons I really appreciate the Printz Awards. This is not a book that I would have picked up on my own. It was added to my reading list because it won the Printz Awards.


In darkness. (2012). Kirkus Reviews, 71.

“While the images of slavery and slum brutality are not for the fainthearted, and Shorty’s view of humanitarian workers may stir debate, readers will be inspired to learn more about Haiti’s complex history.”

Larson, G. (2012). In Darkness. School Library Journal, 58(12), 122.

“The relentless oppression, poverty, violence, and instability of the country is vividly conveyed through Shorty’s stark, graphic narrative. Toussaint’s story provides historical background for the socioeconomic and political conflicts that continue today.”

Rochman, H. (2012). In Darkness. Booklist, 108(9/10), 110-112.


  • 2013 Michael L. Printz Award
  • 2013 ALA Best Fiction for Young Readers


Nick Lake biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Orenstein, K. (2012). Haiti Rising ‘In Darkness,’ by Nick Lake. Sunday Book Reives (2012). Retrieved from


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