Dark Sons

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Jump at theSun/Hyperion Books for Chil­dren, 2005
Zon­der­van, 2010

Buy this book:

Dark Sons

From the book:

Three Tents (Ish­mael)

“Three tents:
His, hers, ours,
goatskin fortress­es
sep­a­rat­ed by sev­ered promis­es,
cul­tur­al cir­cum­stances,
and yards of use­less pride.
Even so,
we are joined togeth­er
by one invis­i­ble, thread:

Two Hous­es (Sam)

“Trad­ing spaces
makes me dizzy.
Two hous­es,
two beds,
two dressers,
two clos­ets,
two sets of rooms
and rules,
two sets of par­ents
who split on
the shoulds and should­n’ts.
Ein­stein would have trou­ble
keep­ing track.
I lack the finesse, myself,
and so some­times
I throw my hands up,
go for a walk, and tell
the so-called grownups
to work it out.”

from Dark Sons
© 2005 by Nik­ki Grimes

Lis­ten to Nik­ki Grimes read “Field Trip” from Dark Sons:

Awards and Recognition

  • 2003 Coret­ta Scott King Author Hon­or Book
  • CNN.com Best Books for Kids 2005
  • NCTE Notable Book in the Lan­guage Arts
  • New YorkPub­lic Library’s Books for the TeenAge
  • TAYSHAS High­School Read­ing List 2006/07
  • YALSA Best Book for Young Adults



  Why does he have to run off? / To start some new family?/ With her?’ Teenage Sam can bare­ly con­tain his fury and hurt when his father gets mar­ried again, this time to a young white woman who gives Sam a new baby broth­er. In a par­al­lel, first-per­son nar­ra­tive that draws on Gen­e­sis, young Ish­mael and his mother,Hagar, reject­ed by Abra­ham, wan­der in the desert, where Sarah bears Abra­ham’s child. Grimes’ clear, free verse speaks with imme­di­a­cy and lyri­cism about both boys’ feel­ings of betray­al and loss. The real focus, though, is onSam, who com­plains to his high-school friends (‘it’s my step­mom, man. / My dad wants me / to give her a chance / but I can’t’) and talks to and screams at God—until he’s able to ask God to help him let his anger go. The sim­ple words elo­quent­ly reveal what it’s like to miss some­one (‘I’ve stopped expect­ing / his shad­ow in the hall­way / his frame in the door­way’), but even more mov­ing is the strug­gle to for­give and the affec­tion each boy feels for the baby that dis­places him. The ele­men­tal con­nec­tions and the hope (‘You made it / in the end / and so will I’) will speak to a wide audi­ence. (Book­list, starred review)

  Both lyri­cal and pow­er­ful, Grimes’s (What Is Good­bye?) unusu­al nov­el is a med­i­ta­tion on faith and father-son rela­tion­ships, and the inci­sive devel­op­ment of the two cen­tral char­ac­ters through their alter­nat­ing per­spec­tives may well help read­ers over­come the overt­ly reli­gious mes­sage. The nov­el begins with the Bib­li­cal sto­ry of Ish­mael, son of Abra­ham, fol­lowed by the con­tem­po­rary sto­ry of Sam, whose father mar­ries anoth­er woman. While Ish­mael’s sto­ry is gen­er­al­ly more com­plex and metaphor­i­cal­ly rich, the par­al­lel sto­ries res­onate with sim­i­lar emo­tion­al appeals. In Books I and II, each son ini­tial­ly describes feel­ings of resent­ment and aban­don­ment, as well as his fierce loy­al­ty to his wronged moth­er. “He calls him­self my father./ So why is he send­ing me away?” asks Ish­mael; while Sam asks, “Why does he have to run off?/ To start some new family?/ With her?” Then in Books III and IV, each describes how he finds his way towards for­give­ness and hope. Grimes’s com­mand­ing metaphors (“Look at you, mother,/ trembling,/ a bow­shot away,/ your tears/ the only water/ for miles,” says the exiled Ish­mael), author­i­ta­tive style and com­plex char­ac­ter­i­za­tions are unique­ly com­pelling. She explic­it­ly draws the char­ac­ters’ lives togeth­er in the epi­logue, with two poems that detail how Ish­mael real­izes that God has always been “look­ing out for me/ as only a par­ent would,/ being the one father/ I could count on,” and Sam dis­cov­ers in his devo­tions the Bib­li­cal sto­ry of Ish­mael, “A guy whose father/ ripped his heart out too./ Me and you, Ishmael,/ we’re brothers,/ two dark sons,/ …/ You made it/ in the end/ and so will I. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly)