Book Review: This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
Can the best thing happen at the worst time?
Her dad went crazy. Her mom left town. She has bills to pay and a little sister to look after. Now is not the time for level-headed seventeen-year-old Lucille to fall in love. But love—messy, inconvenient love—is what she’s about to experience when she falls for Digby Jones, her best friend’s brother. With blazing longing that builds to a fever pitch, Estelle Laure’s soulful debut will keep readers hooked and hoping until the very last page.
This story is really about 10% love story. To bill that as the main thrust of this book isn’t representative of what’s really going on here. Really this is a story of a teenage who’s been left to fend for herself and has very little resources and is just doing the best she can to get by. Lucille, a senior, and Wren, a 4th grader, are left alone after their mom goes on a two-week vacation and chooses to not come back. Their dad is gone, too. He attacked their mom, spent some time in a mental institution, and now lives in a halfway house, something the girls don’t know until quite late in the story. Lucille wants to keep their situation as quiet as possible because she’s terrified that if a social worker/child protective services gets involved, she and Wren will be split up. Her best friend, Eden, and her brother, Digby, help Lucille out as much as they can, but they’re also just kids. Lucille and Wren also appear to have some guardian angels who mysteriously stock the kitchen with food and help keep the yard clean etc. Things are not easy for Lucille and Wren, but they are getting by. Lucille gets a job and manages to keep their household going while still going to school, too. But a falling out with Eden, uncertainty about what’s going on with Digby, and, eventually, a tragic accident pile on to make Lucille’s already stressful life even more uncertain.
There were many things in this book that didn’t necessarily work for me—I wasn’t really into the characters, the story was slow, I wanted more from the love story, and so on. But what I value this book for is the look at the lives of children who are struggling. Lucille and Wren’s story of being left alone and having to do it all on their own is not one that we see often in YA. As hard as it is for many of us to imagine parents just utterly abandoning their kids, it happens.
The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking of the teens I’ve known who have been in situations very similar to this one. If you know me in any capacity beyond just what I write on this blog, you know I lovingly call the teens who have attached themselves to me at the library my “minions.” I’m at a public library now, but when I was at a high school library, I had a pretty dedicated gang of kids who would show up and hang out at my desk for huge chunks of time, telling me everything about their lives. My very first minion was this kid D’Shawn. He would come see me at least a dozen times a day. He’d sneak in when he should’ve been in class. He’d cut through the library to say hey. And slowly, as he hung around more, he started to reveal things about his life that he tried to keep off everyone’s radar. He is featured in this powerful United Way video that is below, sharing his story of being left to fend for himself after his mother took off for a while. Though his story only shares some of the same elements—he was homeless for most of his life—as I read this book, I thought of him, and all the kids like him, who have found themselves in situations many of us can’t ever even imagine, and who work hard to keep it together and not let anyone see how hard things really are.
Even though I wanted more out of this book, it shows us a story that’s an important one. Readers looking for a big time ROMANCE story (which the summary and the tag line, “Can the best thing happen at the worst time?” pitch this as) will be left wanting–very little happens between Lucille and Digby and it’s hard to see what she sees in him or why they are drawn together. Though the stakes are high and Lucille certainly faces plenty of adversity, readers are never really given the sense that she won’t make it. While I wanted a stronger plot and more well-developed characters (and their relationships), I kept reading because of the heart of the story. I hope readers can look past the disappointing romance and sometimes greatly overwritten story to spend a little time in Lucille and Wren’s lonely and unstable world.
- Review copy courtesy of the publisher
- ISBN-13: 9780544534292
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Publication date: 12/22/2015
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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