For Wash Fuller and Naomi Vargas, their love is a lighthouse. A beacon of hope that persists stronger than any of the mounting social pressure facing them, more forceful than the waves beating down at home; willing to crush them in one foul swoop, and a glimmer of hope at what life could be together. In 1937 East Texas though, it’s simply not a matter of mere love. There’s a complex racial caste system to jump through; with stumbling blocks meant to trip them up at every twist. Set against the backdrop of the deadliest school explosion in our countries history, Ashley Hope Perez tells a story of segregation, family, and a love worth even the most dire consequences.
I’ve been told by people who actually get their noses out of books that there is this thing called the Instagram, a social media app where there’s a popular hashtag floating around called #relationship goals. Well, Ashley Hope Perez is my #writing goal. In all seriousness though, this woman can WRITE! It astonished me even after closing the final page of OUT OF DARKNESS how she could weave such delicate prose out of seemingly nothing, and as anyone who knows me would tell you; poetic writing is like chicken soup for my soul. There was many an instanse where I would read a page only to immediately flip back to it, so I could sticky note it for further analysis and disection. That leads me to the other thing about her writing, it made me really think and look deeper into hidden metaphors and the subtle meaning behind her clever wordplay to uncover the layers of grit that surround the core of the story. Literary I-spy would be the only way I could describe it, with the reader constantly looking to uncover little nuggets of gold that really capture the essense of the book. This creates a very rich reading atmosphere where it feels like as soon as you open the dustjacket you’re immediately catapaulted into a world just as layered and diverse as our own, where some new dimension is always waiting undiscovered. Be forewarned though that Perez in no way shy’s away from tough subjects, and thus OUT OF DARKNESS is not for the faint of heart. She handles these delicate issues with sensitivity though, in a way that makes a reader think outside their comfort box. There’s so many analogies I could use to explain Perez and her wordsmith talent, none of which would fully do her justice, but the one I feel best captures her gift compares her to a spider. Out of nothing she slowly builds a story, with each strand slowly tying together and becoming more intricately wound with time, until finally she ensnares us hook, line, and sinker, in her masterpiece of words.
As I said in the into, OUT OF DARKNESS is at its’ core a story of love in all its forms. Not just Wash and Naomi’s romance, but sibling tenderness as well. This love fuels character development, builds conflict, and adds a layer of dynamics to our relationship with the book. Most importantly though, it made me care. Call me a softie but after reading just a few of the many little ways Naomi fills a maternal role for her siblings my heart grew three sizes, and after that the thought of Naomi being ripped away from Beto and Cari filled me with genuine heartache. Wash and Naomi’s relationship is precious as well, the way they bring each other out of their cocoons and thaw the ice in their hearts makes the ticking time bomb of their relationship all the more apparent and agonizing waiting for. The best love stories are always shrouded by a cloak of darkness it seems, where the cruelty in others hearts overpowers the good in our heroes. So, can Wash and Naomi join the ranks of 21st century greats of Jack and Rose, Noah and Allie, Eleanor and Park? I think so.
After savoring every bit of OUT OF DARKNESS I have a feeling my library card will have a lot more check outs featuring Ashley Hope Perez in the coming months. Actually, scratch that. I’ll be heading straight to Amazon with my purchase of her grocery lists, so I can dog ear my favorite pages, scribble in the margins, and use an array of post it notes to mark my favorite passages. If there’s one book you read this year, let this one be it.