Educator’s Guide: Out of Darkness

out of darknessOut of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez is the selection for the LAII’s Vamos a Leer book group meeting scheduled for October 10, 2016.

To read our thoughts on the novel, see our book review.

Below, we’ve included some background information on the book.

The Américas Award is currently creating a guide to accompany the book and we will update our page as soon as it’s available.

Lerner Books wrote a Discussion Guide for the book.

The Texas Library Association’s Spirit of Texas Round Table has also compiled a number of resources to support using the book in the classroom:


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.


  • Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (2016)
  • Tomás Rivera Book Award Winner (2016)
  • Américas Award Honor Book (2016)
  • School Library Journal Best Book of 2015
  • Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2015
  • 2016 Top Ten TAYSHAS selection
  • 2016 Spirit of Texas book
  • Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults


Based on various conversations we’ve had about the book and its use in the classroom, we thought we’d provide both background on why we believe it’s so important that books that deal with topics such as those discussed in Out of Darkness be used in the classroom, and resources that can be used to support teachers and students who read the book.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who had worked at the local Rape Crisis Center. During this conversation I was made aware of some shocking and gut wrenching statistics on sexual abuse in New Mexico (NM).

Statistics compiled from Sex Crimes Trends in New Mexico: An Analysis of Data from The New Mexico Interpersonal Violence Data Central Repository 2010-2014, and New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (YRRS) High School Survey Results Bernalillo County Grades 9-12, 2015

Out of Darkness deals with the issue of sexual abuse, and many have questioned whether or not it is appropriate to use in schools because of this. When I look at the statistics above, it seems very clear to me how important it is that we use books like Out of Darkness in our classrooms. Given the high probability that we will have students in our classes who are or have been victims of sexual abuse, we must provide the spaces that allow them to process these experiences and seek any help or support that they may need.

Obviously, no educator should introduce a book like Out of Darkness without significant forethought and planning. After speaking with a colleague who has experience in offering classroom outreach and training on sexual assault and related issues, we have a few recommendations for ways that educators could prepare for teaching this book:

First, we would suggest that the educator contact the school’s social worker or counselor and let them know that she/he will be using the book in the classroom, and that it deals with issues of sexual violence and abuse.

Second, for our NM teachers, we suggest contacting the Rape Crisis Center. They have staff trained to come into high school classrooms and do presentations on these topics. Teachers using literature dealing with themes of sexual abuse regularly arrange these presentations so that students have a context from which to understand the topics they are reading and discussing. During these presentations, the Rape Crisis Center staff can also speak to students about the services in the community available for survivors of sexual violence. If you are not a local NM teacher, we would suggest seeking out your local resource center(s) before implementing the book in the classroom.

Third, we suggest viewing the documentary Audrie & Daisy. The film is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual assault crimes against them have been caught on camera. It takes a hard look at American teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying, spun wildly out of control. It is currently (as of October 2016) available to stream on Netflix.

Fourth, have an alternate reading available. Our colleague from the Rape Crisis Center pointed out that when someone has had their power taken away from them through sexual violence, it is very, very important for there to be options in how they want to heal from that experience. For some survivors, reading a book like Out of Darkness will be empowering. For others, it may trigger PTSD, in which case it is of great importance that they have an alternative option.


Out of Darkness, Hope Pérez’s most recent book, has been acknowledged with a range of awards and accolades, including, in addition to the Américas Award, the 2016 Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and the 2016 Tomás Rivera Book Award.

The story is powerful and compelling and, according to a review by the New York Times, “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.” Other books by Hope Pérez include The Knife and the Butterfly and What Can’t Wait.

Hope Pérez works as a professor of world literatures at Ohio State University and earned her PhD in comparative literature at Indiana University. Her husband is also a professor at Ohio State University, and they live in Columbus, Ohio, with their two sons. Hope Pérez identifies as an avid lover of reading, writing and teaching and, before becoming a university professor, also spent time teaching bilingual kindergarten, Montessori middle school, and high school. According to her personal website, Hope Pérez’s experience teaching young students was a transformative time in her life and career as a writer: “I especially enjoyed my three years teaching high school in Houston, where many of my students were convinced they hated to read and write at the beginning of the year and equally persuaded of the opposite by the end of the year. I credit them with transforming me into an author, and I jump at the chance to reconnect with young readers through school visits and events.”  Hope Pérez also wittily recounts why she never became a librarian, despite her profound love for books: “Reading is one of my passions, and maybe if I hadn’t also fallen in love with teaching, I might have become a librarian just so that I could be around as many books as possible. But I’m also a big talker, a tendency that doesn’t evaporate when I cross a library’s threshold. No doubt I would have been blacklisted before I even got through my library science degree or, at the least, branded ‘The Loud Librarian.’“

Although there is still so much to say and learn about this wonderful author, I think returning to her most recent novel is a great starting point for familiarizing oneself with her work, her values, and her life. As she has said herself, “Out of Darkness deals with layers of tragedy, and pieces of my own broken heart are embedded in it.” In a Huffington Post piece, Black and Brown Bodies in Public Spaces: An Interview with Novelist, Ashley Hope Pérez, Daniel A. Olivas praises Hope Pérez’s writing: “This novel is as stunning as it is truthful, a narrative shaped by history and love that honestly explores racism, abuse and a young woman’s tenacity to fashion a life on her own terms. Pérez has contributed an important, meticulously crafted book to young adult literature.” Olivas also interviewed Hope Pérez on some of the choices she made while writing the book, where her inspiration came from, and what kind of responses she’s received. When asked about the book’s impact, Hope Pérez states: “I’m especially honored when readers make important connections between the novel and the injustices that persist in our society, especially the vulnerability of black and brown bodies in public spaces. Above all, I hope Out of Darkness shows how reckoning with the darkness of the past can make us hunger for light — and for a more just future.” This is one of the reasons we love featuring Out of Darkness on the blog, and getting to know Hope Pérez a bit personally—many of her values and objectives fall perfectly in line with our ambitions here at the blog. We highly commend her dedication to social justice and to giving a voice to the voiceless through the power of literature.

When asked in the same interview about the historical context of her novel, she states: “I also knew early on that my book would center on characters from the margins of mainstream history… I imagined these possibilities because the historical record only addressed the white experience in New London. I wanted to write from that erasure, to narrate from that silence.” As such, Hope Pérez’s work is an incredibly valuable contribution to Latinx literature, multicultural literature, and our general goal of diversifying children’s literature and promoting social justice through books.

For more information about Perez, here are some additional links:


Written by staff at the UNM Latin American & Iberian Institute (LAII), Vamos a Leer Educators Guides provide an excellent way to teach about Latin America through literacy.  Each guide is based upon a book featured in the Vamos a Leer book group.  For more materials that support teaching about Latin America in the classroom, visit the LAII website.  This guide was prepared 1o/2016 by Katrina Dillon, LAII Project Assistant and Alice Donahue, LAII Graduate Assistant.