Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Quality of Prose: 4/5

Quality of Story: 4.5/5

Quality of Characters: 5/5

Ability to Make the Audience Think/Feel Differently: 4.5/5

How Long It Took Me to Finish: 1 day

A 1 Sentence Summary

Out of Darkness follows four people (African-American teen Wash Fuller, Mexican-American teen Naomi Vargas, her little half-brother Beto “Robbie” Vargas Smith, and his father Henry Smith) in the months leading up to and the days following the 1937 New London School Explosion in New London, Texas, a place and time where racism, segregation, and gender inequality defined and dictated everyone’s lives (and deaths).

My Favorite Quotes

“The dead are not always right. The dead are not saints. But the dead are ours. We carry them with us, like it’s our job. And maybe it is.”

“He needs you, reader. All he asks is that you take the story up and carry it for awhile. This strange song, gathered out of darkness.”

out of darkness

What I Loved About It

Out of Darkness doesn’t feel like a YA novel. It’s gritty and real and deals with very adult subject matter (sexual abuse and rape, racism, murder, etc.) in a very mature way. And though my initial thoughts are that these qualities make it an “adult” book, the fact remains that teenagers and children dealt with these things in 1937 (2 of the central characters are teenagers and one is an 8 year old) and teenagers and children deal with these things today. The YA books that we recommend to them need to prepare them for it. I’m sure you can tell how much I love a good YA coming of age story or a fantasy or dystopian action novel just from the amount of posts on this blog about those kinds of books. And I think kids should read books like that. But I think too often we fall in love with exciting dystopian novels and forget about novels like this, novels that focus on the very dark and dim parts of history and of life.

But Ashley Hope Pérez doesn’t shy away from these dark parts of history and life. No, she shines a spotlight on them. Though many of the events and all of the characters that appear in this novel are fictional, all of them (the racist mob, the African-American scapegoat, the threat of lynching, the lack of autonomy women suffered, the unreachable and unfair gender expectations, the ongoing sexual abuse with no way out, no one to turn to for help) are things people experienced in America in the 1930s, are things people are still experiencing today. Though the characters Pérez has created live in a different time and suffer a tragedy the likes of which few of us will ever experience, they are unfailingly relatable and very human and real. Her ability to weave together a story featuring four central characters with very different motivations, struggles, and experiences in such an expert and well-fleshed out way is unparalleled and makes the story Pérez is telling that much more complex and important.

What My Students Could Learn From It

So. Freakin’. Much.

Out of Darkness opens a window for its readers into another time, another culture, another experience. This window would allow my students to understand a time that was different than ours admittedly and yet has so many similarities to our lives today. This window would allow my students to understand that despite a difference in appearance, all people have the same hurts and fears and experiences, and all people deserve to be treated like people at all times. These lessons might seem simple and yet are so misunderstood and unknown among the youth (and way too many adults) today.

This novel could also teach students about history and give them a glimpse of a historical time period that a textbook could never provide. It could teach my students to never allow this shameful piece of history to be repeated in our time today.

It’s also a complex story containing complex characters in a complex structure and can teach students a lot about text structure and point-of-view and how these elements can shape a text.

I could go on and on for ages about all the ways this novel is good for teens to read, but I have way too much work to do for my Master’s classes to go on any more. I’ll just leave it at this: read this book and tell your students to read it too!

Speaking of my Master’s classes! I’m so busy this summer with school that I’ve asked a (brilliant) friend and co-worker, Savannah Mansour, to do some of my blogging for me. Her blog post(s) should be coming soon! I’m sorry to be off the blog for awhile and will definitely miss it (and you, dear readers!), but you’re gonna love her posts (and her)!


10 Fabulous Feminist Books to Read During Women’s History Month

10 Fabulous Feminist Books to Read During Women’s History Month

Hey guys!

I’m so sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted a review. To be honest, my two most recent reads (Someone to Love by Melissa de la Cruz and Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer) were so disappointing and hard to finish, I just felt no motivation to write a review for either of them. Both lacked compelling characters or plots and it took me a full week to read each (and this is solely because of lack of interest not length).

But fear not faithful readers: my good-book-drought is almost over! I’m currently reading a book I’m enjoying a lot. A review should be out within the next couple days.

In other news, you may not know this–because unfortunately it gets very little attention–but this month is Women’s History Month! Happy Girl Power Month™ to you all!


In lieu of a review, I thought I’d take advantage of this month being Women’s History Month by posting a list of my favorite feminist novels or–for those who still fear the dreaded f word–novels that focus on strong female characters who overcome obstacles and gender expectations, fight against oppression, and just generally kick–metaphorical or literal–butt.

This list is comprised of both classics and young adult books, fiction and nonfiction. The books on this list focus on women of numerous different races, backgrounds, religions, and experiences–real and fictional. But every single one of the women in these books taught me something–or many things–and can teach our female–and male!–students a thing or two as well.

So without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top 10 favorite Girl Power™ books:

1. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

thousand splendid

This book centers on two very different women in Afghanistan who happen to be married to the same cruel, abusive man and who find strength and love in each other. Hosseini draws attention to the oppression of women in a Taliban-led Afghanistan and explores the mother/daughter relationship and the importance of education for women. It is my favorite book OF ALL TIME.

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“A society has no chance at success if its women are uneducated.”

thousand suns quote

2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the dystopian future, few women are fertile and the few that are left are forced to be handmaids–like Hagar was for Abraham and Sarah–and bear children on the knees of the wives of important government officials. Atwood explores the sexualization of women that led the world to that point in a truly striking way. If you’ve seen the meh Hulu show based on the novel, I beg you to read it too. It’s got plenty of insights the show leaves out and is just generally way better.

handmaids tale

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Falling in love, we said; I fell for him. We were falling women. We believed in it, this downward motion: so lovely, like flying, and yet at the same time so dire, so extreme, so unlikely. God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always, for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.”

“I avoid looking down at my body, not so much because it’s shameful or immodest but because I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to look at something that determines me so completely.”

handmaid's tale

3. Kindred by Octavia Butler

An African-American woman living in the 1970s who inexplicably travels back in time to the Antebellum south to visit her ancestors–a white landowner and his black slave. This is technically sci-fi but it’s so much more than that. It raises so many important questions about race, gender, equality, freedom, and the nature of time. It’s a must read for any feminist.


Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“The ease. Us, the children… I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”

“I was the worst possible guardian for him—a black to watch over him in a society that considered blacks subhuman, a woman to watch over him in a society that considered women perennial children.”

4. The Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

In feudal Japan, a girl survives an assassination attempt on her way to marry the prince. In true Mulan fashion, she disguises herself as a boy to discover who tried to kill her–and also to escape the marriage she never wanted. This one’s a really fun, action-packed, romantic, and well-written YA novel I’ve mentioned before. And it’s got a really great strong female main character.

flame in the mist

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“I’ve never been angry to have been born a woman. There have been times I’ve been angry at how the world treats us, but I see being a woman as a challenge I must fight. Like being born under a stormy sky. Some people are lucky enough to be born on a bright summer’s day. Maybe we were born under clouds. No wind. No rain. Just a mountain of clouds we must climb each morning so that we may see the sun.”

“You are first and foremost a person. A reckless, foolish person, but a person nonetheless. If I ever say you are not permitted to do something, rest assured that the last reason I would ever say so would be because you are a girl.”

mulan gif

5. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

A woman in the 1800s, Tess, is raped (there’s debate amongst readers on whether it was rape but 100% yes it was) by her rich, important relative and the rest of her life and her reputation–the most important thing for a lady to have in that period–is ruined forever. I’m not sure this book was meant to be feminist when it was written, but Hardy sure does give us great insight into the treatment of women in time in which he lived. It’s a must read classic.


Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Did it never strike your mind that what every woman says, some women may feel?”

“Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance of discovering in that way; and you did not help me!”

6. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

This book tells the true story of sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké, some of the first female abolitionists and suffragette pioneers. I had never even heard of them prior to reading this book, but reading their story truly moved me.

invention of wings

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“Who am I to do this, a woman?”

“’God fills us with all sorts of yearnings that go against the grain of the world—but the fact those yearnings often come to nothing, well, I doubt that’s God’s doing.’ She cut her eyes at me and smiled. ‘I think we know that’s men’s doing.’”

7. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Grace Marks was the most famous murderess in Canada in the 1800s, and Margaret Atwood tells her story in the most fascinating way. She explores the unfairness of gender expectations at the time and feminine sexuality like no one else can. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, this has also been made into a series (on Netflix). The series is good, but reading the book is NECESSARY.

alias grace

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“In his student days, he used to argue that if a woman has no other course open to her but starvation, prostitution, or throwing herself from a bridge, then surely the prostitute, who has shown the most tenacious instinct for self-preservation, should be considered stronger and saner than her frailer and no longer living sisters. One couldn’t have it both ways, he’d pointed out: if women are seduced and abandoned they’re supposed to go mad, but if they survive, and seduce in their turn, then they were mad to begin with.”

“He doesn’t understand yet that guilt comes to you not from the things you’ve done, but from the things that others have done to you.”

“They wouldn’t know mad when they saw it in any case, because a good portion of the women in the Asylum were no madder than the Queen of England. Many were sane enough when sober, as their madness came out of a bottle, which is a kind I knew very well. One of them was in there to get away from her husband, who beat her black and blue, he was the mad one but nobody would lock him up.”

alias grace gif

8. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My only nonfiction offering on the list, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize Laureate ever, tells her story in this memoir. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6 years or so and don’t know who she is, Malala was shot in the face by the Taliban for being an activist for the education of women. And she’s just generally a boss.

i am malala

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

“If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?”

9. A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

I’ve reviewed this book before here. It, like A Thousand Splendid Suns, focuses on gender expectations in the Middle East and features a strong female lead.

girl like that

Favorite Feminist Quote:

“You are girls..you can’t get away with acting like boys.”

10. The Harry Potter Series


Last but not least, I think this series requires no synopsis or explanation. Feminist QUEEN, J.K. Rowling provides so many strong female leads in this series, it’s kind of insane that the titular character is a (let’s all be real) clueless teenage boy.

Favorite Feminist Quotes:

Literally every time Hermione Granger or Professor McGonagall or Ginny or Molly Weasley or Lily Evans Potter or Luna Lovegood speak or are mentioned.

There you go guys! 10 great books to read (and to suggest to your students) during March AKA Women’s History Month AKA Girl Power Month AKA The Best Month of the Year!

Happy reading!