Out of Darkness
by Ashley Hope Perez
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Obtained Via: Library
View at the Traffic light:
“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”
New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.
“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”
They know the people who enforce them.
“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”
But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.
“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”
Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.
I don’t even know how to begin talking about Out of Darkness, but I felt I NEEDED to write a full review for this one. I need other people to pick up this book and absorb it, because it is so, so important. It’s flown mostly under the radar– only 700 reviews on Goodreads despite a Printz nomination — but it also feels like an instant classic because of what this book has to say.
Make no mistake, this book is dark. It is dark, and bleak, and brutal. It does not sugarcoat or gloss over anything. I’ll be honest — at times, it’s downright miserable, because the characters are time and time again thrown into terrible circumstances. However, it never feels like Perez went out of her way to make the characters suffer in order to move readers to sympathy. If Naomi and Wash, the two main characters, HAD lived in 1930s New London, you could easily see them having lives very similar to the ones depicted in the book. Because this book deals with racism, intersections, sexism, racial violence, sexual assault, and sexual coercion. All of this is very well done, but it is a lot.
Naomi is a Mexican-American girl who moves to New London with her white stepfather and biracial half-siblings(who, even though they share a mother, everyone considers white). New London is strictly segregated, but Naomi doesn’t quite fit in on either side. She attends the white school, but is told by the local store owner that she’s not welcomed in his shop. From the beginning, Out of Darkness makes Naomi straddle these two worlds, especially as she strikes up a friendship with Wash, a black boy, which eventually blossoms into something more.
Out of Darkness isn’t about the school explosion, but it does play a pivotal role in the story. How could it not? While Out of Darkness is full of quiet, small heartbreaks leading up to the school explosion, it’s after that when the most insidious hatred raises its head, and the book cast a harsh light on how the citizens of New London react. There are many parts of the book that I think are best discovered while reading, even though this isn’t really a plot-driven book at all. For long periods of time, nothing much at all really seems to happen. . . but the writing is so good that I also didn’t want to put this book down. This book is a lot to stomach, but if you’re okay with a dark, bleak reads, I HIGHLY recommend it. I cannot see how this book won’t make my top ten list of books I read at the end of the year.
Out of Darkness is incredible in every way. I will probably never be able to read it again, but I think it’s a book that should definitely be experienced. 5/5 stars.