Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Book Review: Out of Darkness


Of the many perks college has to offer, being exposed to something new is the one that provides me with endless pleasure (even if that pleasure comes from hating on Brother Dean's "you deserve rape" sign). That right there is one of the negative examples, but thankfully there are plenty of stunningly lovely ones as well. Of all the great things that have entered my life I'd like to focus on a passion I'd put on the back burner the past few years: reading. Particularly reading the book "Out of Darkness" by Ashley Hope Perez. 

What you need to understand about this book is it's wildly destructive. From the moment it begins with the East Texas town of New London digging through a collapsed school, pulling the tiny bodies of children out of the rubble, through the story that takes place in the months leading up to the explosion, all the way to the final pages; I found myself emotionally invested in a narration that I knew would be damaging. But this damage does nothing to diminish the fact that I loved every second I had this book in my hands. 

Perez did a fantastic job in her story-telling. She didn't gloss over any rough patches, yet she found a way to bring out the brightness and hope in a setting of racism and abuse, even in the darkest moments (hence the aptly named title).
 
The book revolves around her main characters, Naomi and her half siblings Beto and Cari, and their relationships with the world and people around them. There's the way the little family becomes a little bigger with Wash, a black boy native to New London, and the way it struggles with Henry, the twin's father and born-again Christian determined to bury his past mistakes by making a perfect family. They interact with a world that draws lines not only between white and colored people, but between the various shades of black and Mexican that exist in the town together. There were even lines drawn between the family as the twins are accepted into society while their darker sister is left as an outsider. These relationships, and the consequences of their very existence, are the heart of this novel.

If this were just a love story I would not have found it so intriguing. It's a story that places you in every facet of the community through Perez's use of different points of view. We transition between Naomi, Beto and Cari, Wash, Henry, and The Gang to see the whole of the narration, and I consider it a genius move to make. She puts us as readers into the story as The Gang, the only chapters in "Out of Darkness" narrated in the first person. We become a central piece of New London, a motivating force in the plot and not in a good way. I was made to feel uncomfortable with the racist, sexist, and toxic thoughts running through my head as I read, and I believe that was an intentional move by Perez. 

Part of our class discussion around this book focused on the question, "would you teach this book to high schoolers?" I was disappointed in many of the negative reactions I was placed next to, mostly using the reasoning that it's possible to teach teenagers hard lessons in less graphic ways. My answer to that is why shouldn't we teach lessons in graphic terms? This is a point in life where everything is graphic. There are new experiences to be had and emotions are always, always high. Why is this the time to hold back on why some people drink, or the harsh reality that blood doesn't always mean loyalty and protection? This is a book I would teach to high schoolers ten times over, a book I'd recommend to any number of adults as well. It's no worse than giving a 15 year old a book about two people whose love is so deep and passions run so hot that they end their own lives. No worse than a man who builds an entire life to get close to a woman he loved once only to discover some choices in life run deeper than others, like the choice to stay. And also he gets shot in a pool so that's cool. 

My hope is to teach and treat high schoolers like thinking human beings, not a collection of wild thoughts that need control. While I'll probably never get the chance to assign something like this as a social studies teacher, I will be able to recommend it to anyone who's interested and do so gladly. 


-E.B