Somewhere in the Darkness
(1993), a young adult novel by Dean Myers, was awarded both the Newbery Honor Award and the Coretta Scott King Book Award. Told in a realistic
and unsentimental style it explores themes concerning the bond between a father and son, how trust is built—and destroyed—between two people, and how people can choose their own destiny despite the legacy they inherit from their parents.
Fourteen-year-old Jimmy lives in New York City with Mama Jean, his legal guardian. Mama Jean was a friend of Jimmy’s parents who agreed to take Jimmy in when his mother passed away and his father went to prison for armed robbery and murder. Jimmy doesn’t remember his parents very well and loves Mama Jean, who is strict but affectionate. Jimmy is intelligent and empathetic, but struggles at school and tries to avoid going, but Mama Jean, aware of his potential, pushes him.
One day, Jimmy goes to school for the first time in weeks, only to discover that it’s a testing day and so school has closed early. He goes home and due to the early hour, Mama Jean is not home; instead, an unfamiliar older man is there. He tells Jimmy that he is Crab, his father. Mama Jean comes home and is happy to see Crab. He tells them that he has been released from prison on parole and that he has secured a job in Chicago. He wants Jimmy to come with him, insisting that the job is time-sensitive and so they must leave right away. Jimmy, reluctant to leave Mama Jean, is curious about Crab and wants to know him, so he agrees to go. Mama Jean is hesitant but decides it is best for Jimmy to be with his father. She gives Jimmy some money, telling him to call her if he needs anything.
As they drive, Jimmy notices that Crab is behaving strangely. He appears unwell and is evasive. Finally, Crab admits that he has lied: he is suffering from kidney failure and escaped from the prison hospital because he does not trust the prison doctors and because he wants to prove to Jimmy that he’s innocent. He was convicted on the basis of testimony given for a plea deal. He tells Jimmy he has an old friend named Rydell in Arkansas whom Crab believes will exonerate him.
Upset, Jimmy insists on being let out of the car. Crab stops and lets him out, but then talks him into staying with him. He tells Jimmy that first, he must go to Chicago to meet an old girlfriend, Mavis. As they drive, Jimmy learns about his mother and their marriage, and while his father seems sincere in his desire to prove his innocence, Jimmy also notices that his father lies easily and has definite criminal tendencies.
In Chicago, Mavis is pleased to see Crab. Jimmy discovers that she was his father’s mistress while he was married to Jimmy’s mother. Crab tries to convince Mavis to drop her life, including her job and son Frank, and come with him to Arkansas, but Mavis refuses. Crab, needing a way to get to Arkansas, steals a man’s wallet in order to rent a car, alarming Jimmy and making Jimmy doubt his protestations of innocence.
Crab and Jimmy drive to Marion, Arkansas. They meet Miss Mackenzie, an old friend of Crab’s, and her son, Jesse. Miss Mackenzie lets them stay with her. They meet High John, a â€›conjure man,’ and Jimmy sees that his father once had a tight group of friends in Marion. Jimmy’s opinion of his father’s old friends varies, but he is fascinated to find out so much about Crab’s life.
Crab takes Jimmy to meet Rydell, the man who was with Crab the night of the robbery. Crab believes Rydell will tell Jimmy that Crab did not shoot the guard and, thus, is not a murderer. Crab believes Rydell will do so because he thinks Rydell must be ashamed of not having spoken out during the trial when he could have contradicted the testimony that convicted Crab. Rydell refuses to exonerate Crab. He betrays Crab, calling the police, and Crab is arrested. He dies not long after in the hospital, with Jimmy sitting by his bedside.
Jimmy uses the money that Mama Jean gave him to go back to New York. He can’t stop thinking about Crab. He is disappointed in what his father turned out to be but realizes he is glad to know, that he can use Crab’s example as inspiration to do differently and better.
Myers’ unsentimental approach to the relationship between Jimmy and Crab underscores the gulf that exists between all individuals no matter how they are related. As Jimmy learns about Crab, he realizes that he is very much like his father in how he reacts to the world; his objectivity, because he does not know his father, mirrors that of the reader to great effect.