Thoughts on the new Jay Asher novel, What Light

Yesterday I received my Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of What Light, by Jay Asher.   I loved Thirteen Reason’s Why  – and both the content and the form of that novel have really stayed with me.  It is a novel that has often been on hold in my library, and students have fallen in love with it year after year, often hearing about it through word of mouth.

What Light, by Jay Asher, is another way for him to explore the ideas of redemption and forgiveness (he says as much in his opening letter to the ARC), but with a much happier construct.  Sierra, the main character in the story, runs a tree farm in Oregon with her parents, and every year they go down to California between Thanksgiving and Christmas to run a tree lot.  Sierra misses her friends from Oregon, and also loves her time in California, with her best friend there, Heather.   The majority of the novel takes place in California – and this might be their last year on the lot there.  They will keep the farm, but the actual business at the lot has been in decline.  Sierra is notoriously picky with her romances, but then one day Caleb catches her eye.

Despite being warned about a terrifying incident in Caleb’s past, Sierra and Caleb start a tentative relationship – one that looks destined for heartbreak.  Will Sierra get a Christmas miracle?  What actually happened in Caleb’s past?  Should everyone be judged by their worst day? These are some of the questions that the novel posits, and the plot does have a nice quick pace to it.

I have been eagerly waiting for my copy, ever since I stumbled across the first Teen Book Festival Event at Barnes and Nobel and won the trivia contest.  I felt guilty and gave half of my swag away, but as a school librarian, I am excited to have access to Advance Reader’s copies this year, both to read and assess for collection development, and to share with students.  I am planning to have students turn in book recommendations this year, and do a drawing each month with the students that participate.  I will give away various prizes, but I am sure the ARC’s will go first.

I did enjoy What Light, although I do think that some additional character development would bolster the story.  Throughout the novel, Sierra is always making coffee with hot chocolate and a peppermint stick, and this novel is the equivalent of that.  Lots of good feeling, warmth and nostalgia, with the hint of something darker underneath.  While I do have some hesitations about this novel, I think it will prove popular with a lot of my high school students, and I also really like the hopeful message of the story.  With so many dystopian novels crowding the scene, I have admitted that there are times I would like more “books about puppies” – and this book fits that desire quite nicely.  While not my favorite by this author, I still finished it pretty quickly, and fell easily into the rhythms of the story.   This will make a good addition, also, as a holiday story – of which there are really not many for the secondary level.

Finally, I am always glad when there is a novel that presents people who are farmers, or live in a more rural area, as regular people – not people defined fully by their geography as backwards, or stupid.  As a teacher/librarian in a rural district, I can say that simply putting teenagers in a rural setting does not change their desire to be the best person they can be, or their need to go through the turmoil of adolescence and find their own ways in life.

 

Musings on Baseball and trying something new

This year my son played baseball for the first time.   Neither my husband nor I ever played organized sports, so it was a new experience for the entire family.  The season had its ups and downs – it was clear that most of the other parents had more background knowledge, and some knew each other from t-ball.  My son really struggled at first, not only had he never played, he had never even seen a baseball game before.  We were lucky and had great coaches, that really worked with all of the kids.  Also, in the first round of games, they were allowed to use the tee, but then transitioned away from that.  This led to my son striking out several times in a row, but when he finally did hit it, the parents on our team reacted like he had won the entire game.   It was really fun to watch my son start to consistently hit the ball, and awesome to watch his entire team really improve and start playing as a team over the course of the season.

There were plenty of moments of high drama during the season, and one team that I dreaded playing, because things always seemed to get heated, but yesterday was our last game – and I realized I will miss it.  We only missed one game the entire season, and that was because I read the schedule wrong once, and we missed the second game.  There were several games that no one wanted to go to, my son wanted to quit, and we were tired from our lives.  Also, like I said, neither my husband nor I are very into sports.

This morning, I realized that after the intensity of the final tournament this weekend, I was actually sad to see the season end.  My son is sad too – his team won the tournament, and he is excited to wear his medal around – but I don’t think I would have predicted this outcome when we all started this season.

It made me think that there are a lot of things that I have just dismissed, because I know I don’t like them – and that maybe I am wrong about some of those.  Also, it made me think I need to keep trying new approaches with those students that don’t want to read – I need to keep striving to find ways to help them through their struggle.  If we always quit when something gets too hard, we might cheat ourselves of an experience we might really enjoy.