At first, I struggled to think of how We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mehia fit into the context of this blog. It is a fantasy/dystopian novel and both of these are genres that I don’t immediately associate with social justice literature. However, this book contains so many parallels with our own society that I felt compelled to include it.
We Set the Dark on Fire is the first book in a duology. It tells the story of Daniela Vargas who lives in Medio, a land that is divided by a wall that separates the wealthy and powerful from the poor and powerless. Dani’s family smuggled her over the wall and into a school that trains girls to become the wives of the men in power. Each wealthy man has two wives, a Primera and Segunda, the first who serves as his intellectual partner and the second who bears his children. Dani will be the Primera for a young man from a top family in the government.
This part of the story might seem completely removed from the world that we live in today. We start to see parallels in the various ways that people in the story respond to the conditions within their society. Some in power begin to see themselves as fundamentally different and better than those who are not born into privilege. Characters question whether or not they should stand up to wrongs that do not directly affect their own lives. What does collective responsibility look like in their society?
Students in high school classrooms might read this book as a supplement to conversations and readings about immigration, class, and gender. What connections do they see between Medio and our world? What responsibility do we have for the actions taken by our government? How should we respond?
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Justice 13: I can explain the short and long-term impact of biased words and behaviors and unjust practices, laws, and institutions that limit the rights and freedoms of people based on their identity groups.
Action 17: I take responsibility for standing up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.
RL.2- Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
RL.3- Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.