Out of Darkness

Ashley Hope Perez

Carolrhoda Lab, 2015

Plot Summary

"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. They know the people who enforce them. 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.


  • Booklist (1 Sept. 2015): “Pérez’s latest—following The Knife and the Butterfly (2012)—is a powerful work of historical fiction set in New London, Texas, that revolves around events leading up to the horrific 1937 school explosion that killed close to 300 people. This gripping story centers on high-school senior Naomi, a Mexican American girl who recently arrived from San Antonio with her half siblings, twins Beto and Cari, and their father, oil-field worker Henry. Naomi’s struggle to learn how to take care of the household chores is complicated by her dark past with Henry and the overt racism she faces in the segregated town. She reluctantly befriends and then falls in love with an African American boy, Wash, who is both brilliant and kind to her younger brother and sister. Pérez’s skillful use of multiple perspectives creates a full and well-rounded sense of place and story. Elegant prose and gently escalating action will leave readers gasping for breath at the tragic climax and moving conclusion.”

  • Kirkus (1 June 2015, starred review): “A Mexican-American girl and a black boy begin an ill-fated love in the months leading up to a catastrophic 1937 school explosion in East Texas. The powerful story opens with the legendary school explosion in New London and then rewinds to September 1936. Naomi has begrudgingly left behind her abuelitos in San Antonio for a new life with her younger half siblings, twins, and their long-absent white father, Henry. Now a born-again Christian, Henry struggles to atone for his sins. The siblings struggle to fit into the segregated oil town, where store signs boast "No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs." The precocious twins read better than half the senior class, and dark-skinned Naomi is guilty of not only being Mexican, but also of being "prettier than any girl in school." Their one friend is Wash, a brilliant African-American senior from the black part of town. Pérez deftly weaves multiple perspectives—including Henry and "the Gang," the collective voice of the racist students—into her unflinchingly intense narrative, but the story ultimately belongs to Naomi and Wash. Their beautifully detailed love story blossoms in the relative seclusion of the woods, where even stepfathers can't keep them apart. But as heartbreaking events unfold, the star-crossed lovers desperately hope that any light can penetrate the black smoke cloud of darkness spreading around them. A powerful, layered tale of forbidden love in times of unrelenting racism. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

  • School Library Journal (June 2015. Starred Review): “Gr 9 Up—The 1937 school explosion in New London, TX, remains the deadliest school disaster in U.S. history. With that real-life tragedy as a starting point, Pérez adds greater volatility with race, class, and family dysfunction, by introducing a love story between two teens from diferent worlds in a tiny community where nothing remains hidden for long. Mexican American Naomi, 15, arrives from San Antonio with her younger twin half-siblings to live with the twins' white father, a born-again Christian too fond of the bottle. She's ostracized at her segregated school, even as boys objectify her and girls punish her for her outstanding beauty. The twins are first to make friends with Wash, an African

    American high school senior whose easy, caring manner Naomi can't ignore. As love grows, danger draws closer, with the most immediate threats at home. Narrator Benita Robledo moves efortlessly between rigid control and panicked acceleration, imbuing the multiple viewpoints with authenticity and empathy. Lincoln Hoppe's near-growling interruptions as "The Gang," a collective representation of racist classmates, remain menacingly foreboding throughout.

    VERDICT Pérez's latest, recipient of a 2016 Printz Honor, is wide-eyed testimony to the undeniable best and unrelenting worst of humanity; turning away (or turning of) is never an option. ["Set against the backdrop of an actual historical event, Pérez's young adult novel gives voice to many long-omitted facets of U.S. history": SLJ 6/15 starred review of the Carolrhoda Lab book.]”

New York Times (6 Nov. 2015): “The novels that burn into our minds as young adults often involve horror of some kind. A mere mention of “All Quiet on the Western Front” or “I Am the Cheese,” and I’m right back to brooding again in the ocean-deep emotions of my adolescence. What is that urge, the desire to soak in anguish and injustice as we come of age? Whatever it is, Ashley Hope Pérez’s new novel, “Out of Darkness,” fills the need. Her layered tale of color lines, love and struggle in an East Texas oil town is a pit-in-the-stomach family drama that goes down like it should, with pain and fascination, like a mix of sugary medicine and artisanal moonshine. I actually had to close the book at one point to seek respite with Facebook. And puppies. When I dove back in a few days later, it was hard not to marvel at the book’s potency. Pérez, who has spent much of her career teaching, sets her story against the 1937 New London school explosion, the worst school disaster in American history, which killed 294 people. But the blast is only one of this book’s horrors, and not the one that hurts the most. Her story is about race — about gradients and forbidden crossings. Indeed, escaping from the forces that have shaped the United States for centuries proves impossible for Naomi, for Wash, for the twins and for Henry. The end of the book careers from one threat to another, but the conclusion is never in doubt: New London blows up, shudders and collapses. A tragedy, real and racial, swallows us whole, and lingers.”


Michael L. Printz Award Nominee, 2016

Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award Nominee, 2016

Lincoln Award Nominee, 2018

Américas Award, 2016

Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, 2016


School Library Journal Best Book of 2015

Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015

2016 Top Ten TAYSHAS selection

Spirit of Texas selection

Response to challenges

Leader ISD, Texas (1 Dec. 2021): Along with ten other titles, Out of Darkness, “will not be accessible for use in high school student choice book clubs or classroom libraries. Between November 29 and December 17, district administrators will partner with our high school campuses to ensure these instructional materials are not accessible for HS Book Clubs and Classroom Libraries.”

Title returned to shelf, Henrico County, VA (24 March 2022): Copies of Out of Darkness were returned to the shelves of Henrico County Public Schools libraries this week after being removed late last year. Originally all copies of the title were pulled from shelves for review, more information can be found about the complaint on Henrico County News.

Reference List

12-1-21 high school student-choice book club literature review: Cycle 9 results-community. (n.d.).

Google Docs. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1UDuWdlGclMC4A5WxtSaRxGXwkdJv2DnxxRav6tGG Y-w/view?usp=embed_facebook

Aisle—Lincoln award: Illinois teen readers’ choice award. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.aisled.org/lincoln.htm

Americas award @ clasp, consortium of latin american studies programs. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://www.claspprograms.org/americasaward

Best teen romances of 2015. (n.d.). Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-lists/best-teen-romances-of-2015/

Cave, D. (2015, November 6). ‘Out of darkness,’ by ashley hope pérez. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/books/review/out-of-darkness-by-ashley-hope-perez. html

Current list. (n.d.). Texas Library Association. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://txla.org/tools-resources/reading-lists/tayshas/current-list/

Henrico Schools pull two books for review over sexual content concerns. (2022, January 25). WRIC ABC 8News.

https://www.wric.com/news/local-news/henrico-county/henrico-schools-pull-two-books-for- review-over-sexual-content-concerns/

Hope, P., Ashley. (n.d.). Out of darkness. School Library Journal. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.slj.com/review/out-of-darkness

Library journal. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2022, from

https://www.slj.com/2015/11/reviews/best-books-feature/best-books-2015-young-adult/ March 24, A. B. | on & 2022. (2022, March 24). Two novels returned to Henrico school libraries after

being removed for review—The Henrico Citizen. The Henrico Citizen - Henrico County,


Virginia’s Hometown News Source since 2001.

https://www.henricocitizen.com/articles/out-of-darkness-novel-returned-to-henrico-school-li braries-after-review/

Out of darkness | kirkus reviews. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ashley-hope-perez/out-of-darkness-perez/

Out of darkness, by ashley hope perez | booklist online. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2022, from http://www.booklistonline.com/Out-of-Darkness-Ashley-Hope-Perez/pid=7484366

Past spot lists. (n.d.). Texas Library Association. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from https://txla.org/tools-resources/reading-lists/spirit-of-texas/past-spot-lists/

SKUENN. (2012, February 27). Printz award [Text]. Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). https://www.ala.org/yalsa/printz-award

The walden award. (2021, July 30). ALAN. https://alan-ya.org/awards/walden-award/ tomas-rivera-book-award. (2022, May 23). Tomás rivera book award.





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