Spotlight on Out Of Darkness (Ashley Hope Perez), Guest Post, Plus Giveaway! ~ (US Only)
Today we're excited to spotlight Out Of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez.
Read on for more about Ashley and her book, an guest post, plus an giveaway!
Meet Ashley Hope Perez!
Ashley Hope Pérez grew up in Texas and is the author of three award-winning novels for young adults. Out of Darkness received a Printz Honor and the Tomás Rivera Book Award. She is an assistant professor of world literatures at The Ohio State University and lives in Columbus with her husband and two sons.
Meet Out Of Darkness!
“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.
~ Guest Post ~
Out of Darkness Op-Ed
In 2009, when I started writing Out of Darkness, the Black Lives Matter movement did not yet exist. In 2012, when I was nearing the end of the first draft, the murder of Trayvon Martin changed how I thought about my characters and forced me to reconsider the future I imagined for them. By the time the novel was published in 2015, activists were marching, writing, and stopping traffic to bring long-overdue national attention to the racialized violence that daily flouts the equal value of Black lives. And now, in 2020, the police murder of George Floyd catalyzed an even broader protest movement—and a nascent willingness to confront institutional racism and systemic injustice.
How do these current events change the ways that readers engage with a historical novel like Out of Darkness? What does “now” matter to a story set in the 1930s against the backdrop of the 1937 New London, Texas, school explosion that killed nearly three hundred people, most of them children?
For one thing, the nationwide movement for racial justice has demanded recognition of the history and persistence of racism in our country. That means more readers come to Out of Darkness without being hampered by the myth that racism is a now-defeated monster of our past. Instead, they can see the novel as the exploration of one moment in our shameful history, a history that reveals the roots of police brutality, mass incarceration, the slow violence of environmental poisoning, and other harms that our white-dominant society inflicts on minoritized communities. We need to recognize these harms for what they are: a continuation of state complicity and white investment in racist ideas that have been with us in this country since its founding. That’s the idea at the core of Ibram X. Kendi’s comprehensive study, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. (If you’re learning about the racism in us all alongside young people—or if you would just like a shorter, more conversational treatment of these ideas, check out Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. This is the YA remix of Kendi’s book by Jason Reynolds. It’s fantastic.)
Like other white Americans, I have benefitted from innumerable instances of unearned privilege passed down through my family. My family, now solidly middle class, achieved that status thanks in large part to the diversion of resources away from black and brown communities and into white communities. Better medical care, educational advancement for white soldiers via the GI Bill, better-funded schools for my parents, red-lining of neighborhoods to prop up property values, preferential hiring for better paying jobs—all of these inequalities laid the foundation for the comfortable life I live now. Like all other white people, I am a beneficiary of racism. The wish to not know this ugly fact—rooted in what Robin DiAngelo calls “white fragility”—is one of the sturdiest shelters that racism has in our society. It’s a shelter we need to tear down again and again.
Brilliant writers like Kendi and Reynolds challenge us to raze our sanitized ideas of U.S. history and recognize the foundation of racism beneath them. They challenge us to face the fact that anyone can hold a racist idea and call us to recognize and reject the racist ideas we carry.
Reckoning with racism requires intimacy, vulnerability, and sustained engagement. This is where I think the immersive worlds of fiction can help. In a historical novel like Out of Darkness readers engage imaginatively with the systemic and individual injustices that were (and still are) experienced by real people with lives as vivid and complex as their own.
Set during the months leading up to the deadly 1937 school explosion in New London, Texas, Out of Darkness centers on a fictional relationship between a Black boy, Washington Fuller, and a Mexican American girl, Naomi Vargas. Their paths cross when beautiful, shy Naomi moves to New London with her twin half siblings. Until the opening of the novel, the three of them have lived in San Antonio. But Naomi’s white stepfather—newly baptized and emboldened by a well-meaning pastor—convinces the children’s grandparents to send them to live with him in East Texas where he works in the oil field. This move is motivated by educational opportunity. In San Antonio, the children are relegated to substandard, segregated “Mexican” schools; by contrast, in New London, the absence of a significant Mexican American population means that they can attend the white school. The light-skinned twins quickly settle into their new life, but as a brown girl in a town where color lines are marked out in black and white, Naomi encounters daily hostilities. Home is still worse; there, she must weather the wild fluctuations of her alcoholic stepfather’s moods and his unwanted sexual advances. The East Texas woods offer a rare space of freedom for Naomi, and there her friendship with Wash develops into a forbidden romance. Aware of the precariousness of their lives in New London, Wash and Naomi are looking for a way to leave when the school explosion shatters the community and puts the young lovers on a collision course with human brutality.
Out of Darkness asks readers to travel some very difficult territory. But let me be clear: I did not want pain for Wash and Naomi. I wanted for them what we want for everyone we love: for their lives to open onto a future full of possibility, for them to encounter a world where they could flourish.
When readers close Out of Darkness, I hope they will continue feeling the injustice of Naomi and Wash’s suffering. I want them to turn that indignation toward action for a world where young people like Naomi and Wash are safe to live and love and thrive.
What resources would it take for this to be true?
How do we challenge the racist reality that some bodies are terribly vulnerable to harm, often the very bodies perceived as dangerous solely by virtue of being dark or “out of place” in a particular park or neighborhood?
When will we begin to heal the varied racial injustices of the present and past? How can white beneficiaries of racism acknowledge that these are ours to answer for?
I want us to read books that put us on a path toward accountability, knowledge, and repair. A path we extend by challenging the silences that perpetuate racism and by facing ugly truths even when—especially when—doing so is uncomfortable. It’s time to listen to those who have been doing this work and to amplify the voices boldly naming the truths that must be reckoned with. It’s time to educate ourselves, time to protest, time to support racial justice activist groups, time to be vocal in our social circles about the need for change in this country.
For Black lives to finally matter is only the beginning. We must resolve to invest in Black futures, to envision and make ours a world where Black communities are liberated and thriving.
Let’s author a new story of America by reading—and working—toward racial justice now.
Out Of Darkness
By: Ashley Hope Perez
Publisher: Holiday House Publishing
Release Date: September 10th, 2020
Two winners will receive a copy of Out Of Darkness (Ashley Hope Perez) ~ (US Only)
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