Tag Archives: zombies

In Darkness by Nick Lake

9 Apr

11451112I am the voice in the dark, calling out for your help.

Nick Lake‘s In Darkness is the 2013 Printz Award winning story of a nameless teen trapped in the rubble underneath a collapsed hospital after the Haiti earthquake. His only companion in the darkness is a decomposing hand, his own memories, and a psychic connection to Touissant l’Ouverture, a Haitian revolutionary who lived 200 years earlier.

So, this book is…wait for it…dark. And when I say it’s dark, I mean dark in every sense of the word. Half of the narrative’s setting is defined by absolute darkness. The sense of claustrophobia as we experience the narrator’s blindness, his thirst that drives him to drink whatever blood has collected on the floor, to reach out and touch a disembodied hand just to see if his only companion in his coffin is alive, is overwhelmingly visceral.

The subject matter is dark. It is a story of horrible lives, of murder and murderers, of watching your father get hacked apart by machete toting gangsters, of fighting for your country’s freedom only to die in a dungeon on the other side of the world. This is the kind of story that, for the bulk of its telling, makes you want to kill yourself from the overwhelming sense that there is nothing good in the world, at all.

The writing is staggering in its bleak beauty. Some of my favorite quotes include:

“I tried to call out, but bullets are faster than words, and I was just standing there in the middle of all that metal death” (263).

“We have a mouth – we can feel it in our face, an opening into us that can let the spirit out – but when we use it, when we speak, there is no one to listen. The voices that come to us, drifting through the darkness beyond our prison, they might as well be the voices of the dead. (…) We are a slave to this space, to the inevitable decay of trapped things. We can feed ourselves, but there is no food; we can work with our hands and with our minds, but there is nothing on which to work; we have eyes, but there is nothing to see. There is no future and no past. We are in the darkness. We are one” (326-7).

One of my favorite things about this book was the spirit of Om that came through more and more strongly as the narrative progressed; the sense of emptiness and unity, while horribly depressing in context, was also one of the only reoccurring moments in which I, as a reader, felt liberated from the oppressing sense of insurmountable awfulness.

At times I struggled to get through Touissant’s half of the narrative; it just didn’t have the pop that our nameless narrator’s story had. However, I appreciated the parallels of experience that spanned the hundreds of years between their physical lives, and so I was able to deal.

All in all, this is a pretty amazing book that still continues to haunt me even though I finished it about two weeks ago. However, there are parts that can be difficult to get through without wanting to say “fuck this world, I want to die,” so just be forewarned if you do decide to pick it up.

And, just because Biggie Smalls is mentioned every other page, it’s only fitting that he gets the spotlight for this edition’s music match.

Ashes by Ilsa Bick

23 Feb

I’m going to preface this review by making a somewhat controversial statement: I don’t really like zombies very much. For whatever reason the wide world is obsessed with the undead and has been for years, but to be honest zombie apocalypse scenarios are usually too stressful for me to actually enjoy them. I know for a fact that I would kill myself next to immediately if the dead started rising from the grave, so watching and/or reading about people struggling to survive when I know that, in their shoes, I’d rather just die and get it over with is pretty unbearable. That said, I am totally hooked on The Walking Dead, so go figure. Anyways, when Ilsa Bick’s Ashes was listed inĀ Voice of Youth Advocates’ list of “Perfect Tens of 2011,” I decided to swallow my general dislike of of zombies and give it a go.

In Ashes, seventeen-year-old Alexandra has cut school to go hiking in Michigan’s Waucamaw Wilderness when a massive electromagnetic pulse lights up the sky, making blood geyser out of everyone’s mouths and driving animals into a frenzy. Alex happens to be chatting with a young girl named Ellie and her grandfather on the trail when disaster strikes; after the crushing pain subsides, Alex realizes that that gramps has dropped dead in his tracks, leaving her responsible for the grief-stricken little girl. But wait, there’s more! Alex, who had lost her sense of smell in her battle against brain cancer (affectionately referred to as “the monster” throughout the novel), realizes that something about the EMP making her nervous system go bonkers made her regain her sense of smell and then some. Her animalistic ability to detect the layered nuances of emotions that make up a living thing’s scent is what alerts her to the zombie element of the story, for while the EMP left her alive with some sort of crazy olfactory super-powers, it left the majority of the young survivors totally brain fried, pushing them into a cannibalistic, monstrous feeding frenzy. As Alex and Ellie traipse through the cannibal teenager infested woods towards the hope of safety, they meet Tom, a young man stranded in the forest after his companions are transformed and/or killed by the EMP. The three form a pseudo-family as they struggle to survive in a nightmarish, post-apocalyptic world in which most of the surviving youngsters have been transformed into something less than human and the remaining adults have devolved into a state of desperate, murderous paranoia.

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