Study Guide

In Darkness

By Nick Lake

In Darkness Introduction

If you're from a place that has earthquakes, then you probably remember packing an earthquake kit in elementary school. You filled it with stuff like granola bars, juice boxes, and pics of your pet. Chances are you never used it, but did you ever think about what would happen if you did? If there were a huge earthquake and you were stuck for days, waiting to be rescued?
Just ask the people in Haiti. On January 12, 2010, a massive, 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 160,000 people and devastating an already destitute country (source). When author Nick Lake heard about the earthquake, he knew he wanted to write a book inspired by the catastrophic event.

As you might have guessed, In Darkness, published in 2012, is that book. Thing is, it's not exactly about the earthquake. Sure, the earthquake provides the setting for the book when we begin—our narrator, a young gangster nicknamed Shorty, is trapped under rubble—but more than anything, this really just gives Shorty an excuse to fill us in on what's happened during his life. After all, he has some time on his hands.

Add in a bunch of flashbacks and a little history from the Haitian Revolution, and you've got the 2013 Michael L. Printz award and a 2013 ALA Best Fiction for Young Readers. So if history, poverty, violence, gangs, or social justice interest you, get excited: In Darkness has all this and more, and it's really well written. Now grab a flashlight and let's get going.

What is In Darkness About and Why Should I Care?

Have you ever heard the expression "history is written by the winners"? What it means is that while we like to think what we read in history books is the truth, upon closer inspection, it's clear there's a lot more to it than that. History is a funny—and messy—thing. It's not as simple as the latest superhero movie where there are clear good guys and bad guys.

This book asks us to think about the personal side of Haiti's history, and how one slave leader back in the 18th century and one modern kid in the slums each play a part in it. Now before you tuning us out, think about this. Can you answer these questions?

  • How did Haitian slaves double the territory of the United States?
  • Why did Thomas Jefferson believe the greatest accomplishment of his own presidency was unconstitutional?
  • How did the Louisiana Purchase lead to the Civil War?
  • What do these questions have to do with each other?

Hmm… Those are some head-scratchers. If you find yourself at a loss, head on over to our guide on the Haitian Revolution and Louisiana Purchase. After all, they were a huge deal, plus they set things in motion for the U.S. that weren't stopped for another couple hundred years.

For the sake of this book, all you really need to know is that the Haitian Revolution was one of the most remarkable events in human history. Why? Under the leadership of Toussaint (who is one of the characters in the book), Haitian slaves dashed the French, expanded the U.S., and created the world's first black republic.

We told you it was a really big deal.

In Darkness Resources


Mash-up Central
Find videos, music, reviews, and all the 411 about Nick Lake on his website.

Articles and Interviews

Where's the Light?
Listen to what the author has to say in this interview.

A Critic's Take
Find out what The Guardian has to say about the book in their review.

Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can't Lose
To dig deeper into the Haitian Revolution, check out this article. It has your back.


Shattering Motivation
Nick Lake talks about the earthquake that inspired him to write the novel.

In Ruins
A book trailer highlighting the historical aspects of the book.

Ripped From the Headlines
Check out the trailer for the book. How does it compare to one you'd make?

Universal Experiences
The author describes how universal our experiences are as humans.


Earthquake Damage
The story might be fiction, but the quake was all too real.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Check out a 19th century engraving of the military leader, Toussaint.

Leader, Hero, Slave
Toussaint l'Ouverture on a stamp.

How Haiti Was Won
The Haitian Revolution in full swing.