By Nick Lake
Published 2012 by Bloomsbury Publishing
All Shorty knows right now is darkness - hospitalized after being the victim of gang violence, Shorty is now trapped after an earthquake. He wonders if he will be rescued, or if he will die as foretold - in darkness and in blood. Knowing he may not have time left, Shorty relives his life - and soon, he begins to have a strange experience, almost as if he's recalling another life, one lived hundreds of years before him.
Here is another installment of admitting to being a Bad Librarian - I don't think I ever would have read this book if it hadn't won the Printz. And I don't think I'd be sad I missed it. I remember seeing this book at Midwinter in 2012 and passing over it - the description just didn't really sound like my kind of book and the cover didn't really do anything for me either (yes, I admit it, sometimes I will judge a book by its cover). Then, the book came up in discussions over at Someday My Printz Will Come - but no one seemed to be rabidly promoting it as the potential Printz winner, so I just wrote it off as a book I didn't need to worry about squeezing in before the announcements. Of course, the Youth Media Awards were announced and this did, in fact, take home the shiny gold Printz award and then I felt a bit silly for not paying it much mind earlier. I was the first in our library to scoop it up (on announcement day) and dove in to see what I would find.
As I stated in the second line of this review, I would not have been sad to miss this book. It really wasn't my cup of tea at all. I feel terrible for saying that, seeing as how it won the shiny award and all, but I also realize that not everyone has to like the same things. What's important is that, even though I can't imagine a world in which I would have chosen this book as the Printz winner this year, I can recognize that it does have merit. For me, the strongest aspect of this book is the way it's told - Shorty has an authentic voice, gritty and complex. We discover the stories of his life in pieces, as he struggles to maintain his sense of self and sanity in the darkness of the hospital's rubble. As weird as it feels to say this, I loved learning about Haiti through Shorty's stories - I think this will be particularly eye-opening for teens. I do wonder about some of the things touched on over at Someday - how much of Haiti's present-day culture is still enshrouded in voodoo and zombies? I genuinely don't know the answer to that question but the way it's dealt with here seems a bit too "mystical other" for me. The reality depicted in this book is grim and I've no doubt that much of it is true - an author's note by Lake does a bit of explaining who and what comes from real life - but it doesn't do anything to showcase the other sides of Haiti that surely must exist. Additionally, the spiritual connection between Shorty and Toussaint did not work for me, despite the fact that I truly enjoyed reading both narratives separately. I understand that there is a heavy focus on religion and mysticism in this novel, but the connection between the two narratives just lacked something. As I mentioned, there is some discussion of the mystical aspects of the novel over at the Someday My Printz Will Come blog - head over there to see how much more eloquently they put it than I.
In the end, I'm not sure how to rate this book. Personally, it just wasn't for me, but I can appreciate its strengths and see how it will certainly be a moving and emotional read for others.