We Are the Light, Matthew Quick (2022)
Shortly after his wife is killed in a mass shooting, suburban Philadelphia high school counselor Lucas receives a letter from his beloved Jungian analyst saying he is giving up his practice. Then, Lucas finds a troubled teenager camping in his back yard, and he is determined not to let the young man fall through the cracks. In this epistolary novel, Lucas writes letters to his former analyst, writing through his grief, pain, and hope with an intriguing mixture of insight and delusion.
This is a strange book to be sure, but it really worked for me. The letters paint a wonderful and honest psychological portrait, as Lucas tries to lead his town through the grieving process without being fully able to deal with his own grief, from the loss of his wife or of his unhealthy attachment to his analyst. It’s a book about grief and loss to be sure, but also about the things we do, healthy and otherwise, to put the pieces back together again, the importance of community, the power of love, and the force of hope.
On the whole, it is an honest, intelligent, and hopeful book that I’m sure will stick with me for a very long time.
Read this if you’re interested in:
- Grief and Loss
- Coping Mechanisms
- Jungian Psychology
My Rating: Premise 9, Main Character 10, Setting 9, Plot 8, Intrigue 10, Relationships 10, Success 10, Writing 10, Enjoyment 10, Message 10: TOTAL 96
- The Sleeping Car Porter, Suzette Mayr (2022), 69: This most recent Giller Prize winner (for those not in the know, this is the biggest literary prize for Canadian literature) follows a gay, Black porter on an ill-fated cross-country train trip in 1929. There is a lot to really love about this book. The writing is sharp and it does a wonderful job of portraying the ways it was impossible for so many Black men in that era to succeed, but only to try to fail as slowly as possible. The atmosphere is pitch-perfect in its claustrophobia, particularly as the days stretch on. Unfortunately, I simply didn’t care; the protagonist is sympathetic enough, but the rest of the characters are uniformly pretty awful, and there wasn’t enough pay off for me for a compelling premise. I totally understand why this won such a major prize, but it was, unfortunately, not for me. (Historical, Canadian Literature, 1920s, Travel, Black Canadian Experiences, Race, LGBTQ2S+)
- Home Stretch, Graham Norton (2020), 80: In 1987, a car crash rips apart a small Irish community. One of the survivors, Connor, is made to leave town and swears he’ll never return, while another marries his sister, Ellen. This novel follows the lives of both siblings across the decades, until two chance encounters change everything. I have to say this novel exceeded my muted expectations. Whereas most books that fall into this range in my rating system excel in some areas and are weak in others, this one was consistently ‘pretty good’ across most of the areas. (Small Towns, Ireland, LGBTQ2S+, Family)
- Finding the Mother Tree, Suzanne Simard (2021), 76: I was really excited to read this book about the emerging science of how trees communicate and cooperate in healthy forests. Unfortunately, while Simard is clearly an expert in this field, this book didn’t work for me. It is as much, if not more, memoir than science, and I just really wanted the science. If you’re a person who learns best through feeling connected with the teacher’s story, then you’ll no doubt like this a lot better than I did. (Science / Nature, Memoir, Forests, Trees, Canadiana)
- Stand Out, Dorie Clark (2015), 79: In a crowded environment, what can we do to stand out from the crowd, to find our voice, platform, and audience? These are some of the questions Clark tackles in this book. It’s a solid introduction, but already some of the ideas — especially for finding an audience — seem a little dated. (Business, Strategy, Personal Branding)
- Halt’s Peril, Ranger’s Apprentice 9, John Flanagan (2009), 84: In this episode of the Ranger’s Apprentice series, Will and Horace face difficult choices when Halt is injured in the line of duty while tracking down the cult-leader-slash-extortionist at the centre of the previous book (see my November 12 post). There were definitely some pacing issues here, and I can’t say I find the whole general plot line of the Outsiders very compelling, but these characters are so wonderful I cannot complain. And, yet again, these books stand out by allowing our heroes to be fallible and their enemies smart and skilled, so even a less-compelling episode is time well spent. (Middle Grade, Fantasy, Teenagers Doing Espionage)
- Human Permaculture, Bernard Alonso and Cecile Guiochon (2020), 84: This is a helpful introduction to how permaculture principles (essentially how we can use how nature works as a guide to a way of living that is not only sustainable but enriching for the planet) to the human person. Unfortunately, it still mostly remains in the food-growing space out of which permaculture arose, but which is largely out of reach for an apartment-dweller like me, so I was left wanting a bit more. But overall, this is a good start. (Permaculture, Human Development, Psychology, Ecology, Sustainability)
- Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth Worldview, Umeek (E. Richard Atleo) (2004), 83: This is a very good introduction to aspects of Nuu-Chah-Nulth culture, revolving around the concept of heshook-ish tsawalk, ‘Everything is one.’ There is excellent content here not readily available elsewhere, and so that makes this a special book. It is intended, however, as an exploration of an ‘Indigenous Theory’, or methodology (see Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Dancing on our Turtle’s Back (see my October 22 post for my review) for another example of this genre). And in this light, I’m not sure the book is as successful as hoped; I think it’s probably trying to do more than can be done in 130 pages: introduce Nuu-chah-nuulth cultural principles, ground and justify them in tradition and lived experience, and set them up as an alternative academic methodology. That’s a lot to ask of any book. (Indigenous Perspectives, Nuu-chah-nulth Culture, Myths and Legends)
- By the Book, Amanda Sellet (2020), 63: Mary’s quiet, bookish high school life is shaken up when right before the new school year, her parents tell her that she’ll be changing schools. She quickly meets a new group of friends who are charmed by her old-fashioned sensibilities and decide to make a dating guide based on famous romantic leads from nineteenth century literature. I really enjoyed the first twenty percent of this book; unfortunately it went down very quickly from there. The plot sort of stalled with Mary doing new things with her cool new friends and her family disapproving. By the time it got to the ‘promise of the premise’ I was already checked out. (YA, Romance, Bookish Life)
Leave a Reply