A tale of two Haitis—one modern, one historic—deftly intertwine in a novel for teens and adults.
Readers first meet Shorty under the rubble of the recent earthquake, as he struggles to make sense of his past, present and future. Through flashbacks, they learn of his gangster life in a dangerous Port-au-Prince slum, where he searches for his twin sister, Marguerite, after they’ve been separated by gang violence. In his stressed state, Shorty communes with the spirit of Toussaint l’Ouverture, leader of the slave uprising that ultimately transformed Haiti into the world’s first black republic. Lake adeptly alternates chapters between “Now” (post-earthquake) and “Then” (circa turn-of-the-19th century). His minimalist, poetic style reveals respect for vodou culture, as well as startling truths: “In darkness, I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two.” While the images of slavery and slum brutality are not for the faint-hearted, and Shorty’s view of humanitarian workers may stir debate, readers will be inspired to learn more about Haiti’s complex history. Timed for the second anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, this double-helix-of-a-story explores the nature of freedom, humanity, survival and hope.
A dark journey well worth taking—engrossing, disturbing, illuminating. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)