Book Review: Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

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Historical fiction books to me are considered to be one of the best genres out there. It allows authors to take pieces of history and turn them into personal stories that tell the story of those who came before. Out of the Darkness is a novel by Ashley Hope Pérez that beautifully lives up to what a historical fiction book should be.

This story is based around the historical event of the 1937 New London School explosion. The story begins with a young Mexican-American teenager, Naomi Vargas, and her two younger twin siblings, Carrie and Beto. In September of 1937, they are forced to move from their loving but poor home with their grandparents in San Antonio to New London, Texas to live with the twins’ father and Naomi’s stepfather, Henry Smith.

Henry had previously been with Naomi and the twins’s mother, Estella, but then left her while she was dying due to false pregnancies, a side effect from Henry’s abuse towards Estella. Naomi was also abused by Henry and is uncertain about living with him. The twins go to school at the New London School while Naomi stays at home doing household chores and longing to leave Texas and Henry.

However, this sadness takes a turn when Naomi and the twins meet Wash Fuller, an African-American teen around Naomi’s age living in the segregated area in New London, Egypt town. The four bond over feelings of being an outsider in a primarily white town. Soon enough, Wash and Naomi also fall in love, and enjoy their time together with the twins.

While life is getting better for the Vargas, the universe seems to have other plans. Henry slowly becomes more abusive and controlling towards Naomi and the twins. He desperately wants all of them to feel like a family so in order to do this, he proposes that him and Naomi get married. Naomi is shocked by Henry’s proposition and is also scared that once they get married, she could never see Wash again and never leave Texas.

To prevent this from happening, she makes a plan with Wash to leave for Mexico with the twins, and hide away from Henry. In an unfortunate turn of events, Carrie killed during the New London School explosion, creating a non-sealable hole in the Vargas family, and prompting Henry to push even more for the marriage. Just as Wash, Naomi, and Beto prepare to finally leave for Mexico along with Wash’s family, Henry finds out their plan.

Angered by the betrayal from his own family, Henry kills Wash and forces Beto to kill Naomi. After being forced to kill his own sister, Beto then shoots Henry, ending the source of pain and suffering and destroying the only connection to his broken family. At the end of the book, Beto leaves for Mexico with Wash’s family and lives out the rest of his childhood with his grandparents.

I am and will forever be awed by this book. It is truly remarkable, and the author did an amazing job crafting such a beautiful, meaningful story that teaches a lot about family and gives us an insight into what segregation was like in the late 1930s in Texas. I especially like how the author went deep into each and every one of the characters and gave them special story of their own that makes the readers feel even more connected to them.

Although this story included a lot of difficult topics, like sexual abuse and segregation in the south during that time, the author wrote this book in a way that kind of showed the reader how important it was to talk about these topics because it made the story what it is and provided a deep depth into the book overall. Out of scale of 10, this book deserves a 100 because it is truly amazing and it is a true work of art. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone and I would definitely read another book by this author.

-Review by Teen Volunteer, 2/23/24
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