What Light, by Jay Asher

Being a big fan of Asher’s YA book Thirteen Reasons Why, I’ve had this book on my radar since it first came out. I was looking for something quick to read until the release of another book I was anticipating, so when I saw that this was relatively short, I checked it out of the local library and decided to give it a try. The YA librarian, who I’ve gotten to know very well, had also read it and shared her thoughts on the book with me. She didn’t spoil anything else, though—well, nothing I couldn’t ascertain from the book description anyway.

The book’s main character and first-person narrator is Sierra. She’s an only child, and her parents own and manage a Christmas tree farm. They live in Oregon during most of the year, but from Thanksgiving to Christmas, they move south into California where they sell the trees at the lot they operate—and where the guys who work for her father get outhouse cleaning duties if they ask her out.

Living in two different places like this isn’t that bad for Sierra. She has two best friends in Oregon, who barely make an appearance in the book. The book starts right before Sierra is heading south for the holidays, and these friends are introduced, but other than a few text messages, phone calls, and timely package sent, not much is done with them, leaving them underdeveloped beyond their usage as plot points when needed.

Somewhat better developed is her best friend Heather, who she gets to hang out with during the month when her family sells trees, though even she doesn’t feel like a fully three-dimensional character. Heather has a boyfriend and insists that Sierra find one while she’s there. And then Sierra meets Caleb.

On the surface, he’s a pretty swoon-worthy guy. He buys Christmas trees for people who can’t afford them. But Heather warns Sierra that Caleb has a past. I won’t spoil the reveal, but when it came, it wasn’t particularly shocking or even gripping, yet it was believable. And it’s easy to understand why the small community’s gossip mill blew the incident up into something much bigger than it was. People do that blow things out of proportion when they don’t have all the details or facts, and families should be allowed the privacy to deal with their problems. In that respect, the book portrays reality pretty well.

But as a work of fiction, I found it slow and schmaltzy. There wasn’t much tension building up to the reveal, and as Sierra and Caleb’s relationship blooms, the obstacles in their way—despite the little bit of stress it causes them—never seem particularly insurmountable. Some of the romance is sweet, and the lessons about first love and forgiving yourself are spot on, but there never really seemed like there was much happening. Just a lot of talking and generally being nice to one another—which is how I wish life was more like.

I don’t think the book was badly conceived, and it definitely wasn’t badly written. This very well might be one of those cases when it simply wasn’t a book for me. That happens. As I said, I really do appreciate the ruminating on self-forgiveness, as that’s a theme I often enjoy in books, YA or otherwise, and it really comes across well as the biggest strength of the book. But otherwise, What Light didn’t sparkle enough for me, and I give it THREE AND A HALF STARS.

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What Light is available at Amazon.

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