Title: Out of Darkness
Author: Ashley Hope Perez
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Historical Fiction
warnings: sexual assault, rape, CSA, attempted lynching, murder, child death, racism, slurs
As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that my tolerance for grimdark has gone massively downhill. It just no longer interests me anymore. This world makes me sad enough; why do I need to look to books to make me cry?
That’s how I felt about Ashley Hope Perez’s Out of Darkness. It’s probably the best book I’ve ever given two stars to.
I want to be clear that this isn’t necessarily a bad book––it just was not a book for me. Plenty of people love it, and they’re not wrong to love it––certainly its Goodreads rating and its status as a Prinz Honour recipient are a testament to this. But at some point, books that require words like “gut-wrenching” and “unflinching” and “brutal” and “bleak” to describe are not for me, haven’t been for me for a long time. It’s why I no longer read WWII novels, scar literature, or All Quiet on the Western Front. Yes, it’s realistic, but I already know what real life is like. I don’t need fiction to tell me so, and so I’ve exhibited a strong bent towards spec fic. Bear that in mind for this review. I’m not recommending against it, but it was not the novel for me, and please make sure that this novel is for you before you read it.
There were things that did and didn’t work even aside from my main problem with the novel. Wash and Naomi’s relationship was very successful. I enjoyed that theirs was an interracial relationship where both partners were of colour. I enjoyed the slow burn––they don’t start off with incredible sparks, just mutual interest, and there were legitimate reasons for them meeting outside of “the plot so dictated.” The atmosphere of the novel was also well-done. The oppressiveness of the oil fields, the slow, long, drawn-out days, the waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen until it all happens at once––these are all evidence of sophisticated writing and genuine thought put into the novel. But the switches in perspective were extremely jarring, and I have to admit, I really didn’t like the first person plural perspective of “the Gang.” It felt too much like trying to dictate how readers were supposed to feel, which I’m never a fan of, and was never necessary to begin with, since it’s already being told in third-person omniscient.
But my biggest complaint, if it wasn’t obvious with all the warnings and my disclaimer, is just how dark it was. I’m not saying that these books don’t have value. I’m not saying these books shouldn’t exist. And I’m not saying that real life is not as hard as this. But where I am now, I see these books as a function of having the privilege to be shielded from what life is like. No one who is Black needs to be told about lynching. No one who is Mexican American needs to be told about being discouraged from speaking Spanish. Books like this, like To Kill a Mockingbird––their value lies in the ability to make people who are not aware of certain issues understand their impact in people’s lives. People whose lives are already impacted by CSA, by racism––I honestly think it’s more important that they have books that represent them outside of tragedy. That allow for hope, allow for futures, allow for mirrors of a positive life.
So I’m not saying not to read this novel. It was well-written and emotionally gripping, but had I known the extent of the novel’s hopelessness, had I known the outcome of the novel, had I known how oppressive the atmosphere of the novel was, I would have picked something else to read. So if you do choose to read it, please make sure that you’re okay with reading about the things I warned about at the top of this review.