Book Review: What Light by Jay Asher

Posted November 4, 2016 by Kara in book review, Kara, Lyn / 2 Comments

Book Review: What Light by Jay AsherWhat Light Published by Razorbill on October 11th, 2016
Genres: contemporary, young adult
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
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three-half-stars

From Jay Asher, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Thirteen Reasons Why, comes a romance that will break your heart, but soon have you believing again. . . .

Sierra's family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon—it's a bucolic setting for a girl to grow up in, except that every year, they pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. So Sierra lives two lives: her life in Oregon and her life at Christmas. And leaving one always means missing the other.

Until this particular Christmas, when Sierra meets Caleb, and one life eclipses the other.

By reputation, Caleb is not your perfect guy: years ago, he made an enormous mistake and has been paying for it ever since. But Sierra sees beyond Caleb's past and becomes determined to help him find forgiveness and, maybe, redemption. As disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions swirl around them, Caleb and Sierra discover the one thing that transcends all else: true love.

What Light is a love story that's moving and life-affirming and completely unforgettable.

Kara: Lyn and I picked What Light by Jay Asher as our next read. I have heard so much about this author, and he finally wrote a book that interested me, so I picked it up at ALA. I really enjoyed this even though I’m not really into cutesy romances, though I do wish I had waited until closer to Christmas to read it. Lyn, what did you think?

Lyn: I loved 13 Reasons Why because Asher has this voice that is just amazing. There were some issues with this book that irked me, but overall, this has been my favorite contemporary read of the year. The best thing about this novel was the subject; the Christmas Tree farm. My family tried one when I was in middle school, but three years into it, a fire burned down the farm, and out of 50k trees, one survived. So the subject was near to my heart. For the romance, it was okay, but I have to admit it was one of the better ones. No flashing eyes or hottest boy ever, just a straightforward romance, which was very refreshing.

Kara: I really liked the setting as well. I loved the Christmas tree lot, and the way it was written. I liked Sierra’s relationship with her parents, though her dad irritated me at times. What I did not care for all that much was the romance. I liked them each as characters separately, but I did not like–and this is really hard to put into words–the trivializing of Caleb’s offense. I felt the book let him off too easy. I mean, he went after his sister with a knife, and though he is sorry, he still attacked her door with a knife, and I just felt he was forgiven too easily. The thing is, I know his sister forgives him and that’s all well and fine, and I know the town really made it difficult for him, but something about the whole thing just really rubbed me wrong. I didn’t dislike him, though the broody thing gets old for me, but I just didn’t want to see him as a love interest in a book for teens, if that makes sense.

Lyn: You make a good point. There was no therapy, and the book would have been stronger with Sierra by his side while he was in therapy or going to see a therapist. But it was just blown off. And forgiveness shouldn’t have been the solution here. It is a tool on the road to recovery, but once again, where are the other resources? Where is the long term solution? I don’t see this as a one time thing. Going after someone with a knife isn’t normal or healthy, and I understand the message of the book. But I felt that the entire story was trying to get me to believe that a one time incident is not a precursor to other problems. And this comes from someone with a mental illness, who had red flags all over the place growing up. Some of my social issues should have been reported, such as isolation and times where I would lash out at classmates. They didn’t make me a bad person, but it was an indication that I needed help. Same with Caleb. He wasn’t a horrible person, but it pissed me off that no one around him is offering the proper long term support for his suffering.

Kara: Yeah, because obviously, even if he went to therapy after the incident (which I don’t think he did), he still needs something to help him deal with the aftermath since it’s obviously still bothering him. The town still treats him like crap, as do some of his friends and their parents, and that right there is not an easy thing for a person to deal with. I just don’t think that was handled well. Forgiveness is important, and I get the message of the book, and I think Sierra is a great person for opening up to him and getting to know Caleb when everyone shunned him, but I would have preferred a friendship. And that’s just my personal opinion.

Lyn: I would have loved to see this as a book on what to do to support someone with mental health issues, but it just seemed to be a book about ignoring mental health issues. My depression and anxiety is a part of me. If you ignore it, we are not going to get along. I feel that this is what is happening to Caleb. Just gloss right over that he internalized his anger and fear until he snaps. It was great that Sierra got him to talk on his terms. A plus on that part. But don’t just say it was an isolated incident. Because that is setting up everyone for failure. It kinda felt like an “I don’t see color” moral with a mental problem instead.

Kara: Yeah, good point. But I guess Caleb was claiming he didn’t have a mental health issue anymore, at least that’s the impression I got. That it truly was an isolated incident, which, to be fair, could very well be the case, but I just didn’t like it. It rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t think that someone that committed a crime like that should be a love interest in a book. Call me judgmental if you want to, whatever. I just couldn’t help thinking, that if I had a daughter, I would do my best to make sure she did not date someone who had done something like that, even if it was wrong of me to do so. I guess I would have been like SIerra’s Dad, which as it turns out, irritated the shit out of me. So I guess this book just left me feeling really conflicted overall. I loved the family stuff and the Christmas tree farm, and Sierra’s female friendships, but yeah…that’s as far as it goes for me.

Lyn: I didn’t appreciate her dad trying to interfere with her and the boys. It was really out of line. Like, let your girl be a girl. So I agree. And I would like to have seen more female friendship. That seemed to take a backseat. But talking about the trees added a lot to the story. I think I ended up with a 4 on this one because the Christmas tee talk had me so excited.

Kara: Haha, yeah, I can see how that would have happened. I really did enjoy it, and I almost rated that myself, but when I reflected on my feelings, I just couldn’t rate it that high. I was super irritated with the way her dad threatened to fire any guy that looked Sierra’s way. That was just over the top. I agree with you there. So I’m going to end up rating this one a 3.5. I feel like based on the way I talked, I should rate it lower, but the writing was great, and the book itself was pretty memorable.

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