What Light - Jay Asher

Sierra's family owns a Christmas tree farm which they go to every year for the Christmas season to live and work for a month. This move brings mixed feelings for Sierra. She loves the tree farm and has a close friend who lives there, but she also misses her friends in her other home while she's away. But then she meets Caleb, a boy with a bad reputation, while living at the tree farm for the month.

 

Prior to meeting Caleb, Sierra wasn't interested in starting a relationship with someone she'd just be leaving in a month's time. Then Caleb shows up and he's got dimples (they are mentioned quite a bit) and is cute. Sierra pretty much falls for him right away. Their whole relationship was a bit too insta-love for me. They had their cute moments, but they just weren't developed enough for me.

 

Then there was the matter of Caleb's big mistake that led to his bad reputation in town.

A couple years ago, Caleb's parents were going through a divorce. His sister blamed him for it and repeatedly told him that. One day when he was at home with his sister and his best friend, Caleb snapped on his sister, picking up a knife and chasing her through the house and repeatedly stabbing her door after she shut herself in her room while sobbing in terror. Caleb's sister left town to live with her father, Caleb's best friend was kept away from him by his friend's family, and the people of the town have kept their distance ever since.

(show spoiler)

I just felt like the book wanted to have a big incident, but also wanted to downplay the severity of it. One of the themes of the book was clearly forgiveness, and I'm not saying one mistake, particularly when you're young, makes you an irredeemably bad person who everyone should shun forever. But forgiveness also doesn't magically solve all problems either. I was left wondering how much help Caleb got after the incident. It sounded like there was some family counseling, but did he get therapy for himself to learn ways to cope to prevent that from ever happening again? Because therapy would also help with learning to forgive himself too, which was a big problem he faced in the book. And if he didn't get the help he needed to learn how to deal with stress, that one-time incident could easily be repeated. His story would have gone over much better with me with a more straight-forward "This is what I did. It was awful and here's what I'm doing to make sure it never happens again" approach to it. He's working to atone for his mistake in a way that's very sweet and awesome, but again, that doesn't address whether he's getting help, which is a bit more important to me since that would be the thing that helps ensure it truly is a one-off incident.

 

I felt like Sierra accepted everything once she heard the story a bit quickly, immediately taking Caleb's side without hearing anything from either of the other two people involved.

When she speaks to the friend about the incident, instead of asking about what he witnessed, Sierra insists that Caleb's friend knows that Caleb never meant to hurt his sister. The friend says that he doesn't know that and that he was there while Sierra wasn't. Sierra has a moment's reflection that she really doesn't know since she wasn't there, but instead of asking for the friend's take (since he actually was there for it), the story just moves on with Sierra still firmly on Caleb's side. It felt like the story was trying to give the incident more depth by acknowledging that Caleb's friend was a victim as well, but then just stopped and went for the friend eventually making up with Caleb without us getting to see them talk. Outside of that one moment of reflection, it didn't feel like Caleb's friend was considered a victim of the incident, even though witnessing your friend going after his sister with a knife would be pretty traumatizing.

(show spoiler)

 

We do eventually meet Caleb's sister and hear from her a bit, but Sierra and the book had already taken its stance on the situation before we get to see the sister's interactions with Caleb. Caleb had said he and his sister were fine, but that's the kind of thing I'd really want to judge on my own rather than take his word for it. The book probably wanted to have Sierra taking a leap of faith by believing Caleb and giving him the benefit of the doubt, but that's something I'd want to see for myself. I wish the sister had shown up sooner in the story and been given more of a chance to talk about the incident.

 

Outside of the main relationship, the other characters were too bland for me to really say much about them. They had various sub-plots in the book, but the story didn't give them a lot of focus. This is one of those books where I think it was too short to do all its plot lines justice. There were interesting themes, particularly with how one's mistakes doesn't make one a terrible person forever, but I just felt like the book didn't have enough time to really explore anything meaningfully. Everything just felt brushed over instead.