Friday, January 6, 2017

Book #review: What Light by Jay Asher @jayasherguy #YA #fiction

What Light by Jay Asher
YA holiday contemporary
Hardcover, 251 pages
Published October 18th 2016 by Razorbill 
(first published October 11th 2016)

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.

Okay, where do I begin with my review of What Light by Jay Asher? I honestly thought the story started out a bit on the slow side, seemed to be very sweet (and emphasized a certain character's dimple too much), and the 'love' aspect happened too quickly. Despite these things, I found myself picking up the book whenever I could. I mean, this is Jay Asher we're talking about. 

What Light started off slowly and Sierra didn't immediately grab me like other YA heroines have. But--there's always a but--I grew to like her. Over time as her character was revealed, I saw her for the willful, strong-minded, and determined girl she was, especially when it came to the way a new friend was being treated by others. The family business and her parents having to leave their Oregon home to live in a trailer for weeks to sell trees all day long was something I'd never read about in YA and this interested me. In our fast-paced, technology-focused world, seeing one family abide by an old business practice of their ancestors was refreshing as was Sierra's love for her parents and their family business. Since I'm such a nature lover I easily related to her love of pine trees. How a tree could hold such meaning to people and the importance of traditions meant a lot to me.

The attraction between Sierra and Caleb is instantaneous and they flirt a bit. She's warned off of seeking anything more with him by her friend, Heather, but does that deter her? Caleb has a reputation and Sierra is determined to find out exactly what it is. I'll admit my biggest problem with the book was how Caleb's 'incident' was handled. I don't want to spoil the mystery but I did expect something more--especially a discourse about mental health-- something stronger than Sierra reminding her father about the values he instilled in her as her primary argument in support of dating Caleb.

As the story progressed and my concerns quieted down, this couple grew on me. Their relationship seemed like a return to the simpler times of long ago. Perhaps it was the magic of the holiday season along with the ticking clock of the time element (before Sierra has to return home), which made me go along with what I'd otherwise call out as insta-love. I liked their moments together. They were a cute couple. From their meet-ups at the diner to the tree lot, to Sierra's riding along with Caleb on his runs, to the special Christmas mass he takes her to and that special spot on the hill Sierra reveals to him, I found my eyes racing across the pages.

The chapters are short. The writing is tight. Age-wise, I found the characters and their situations to fall on the younger YA spectrum (almost tween-ish) than I expected from the synopsis. The setting is unique. The conflict, as I already stated, could have been handled differently with a more realistic focus on the serious subject matter. As a parent, Caleb's past actions frightened me and I wouldn't want my daughter dating him. Yet, I remember myself as a teen and would have acted similarly to Sierra if there was someone I grew to care for and felt others were unfairly judging him.

I'll reveal one more thing about my reading: What Light made me cry. There's a scene towards the end where Caleb does something very special for Sierra and that moment hit me quite unexpectedly. Not only did it reveal the sneaky type of writer Asher is, I realized these characters had touched me despite my earlier misgivings. One thing's for sure, I'm enjoying the occasional mug of hot cocoa or coffee with the leftover mini candy canes in my house. I bet Sierra and Caleb would approve.

Rating: 3.5
Cover comment: At first I wasn't crazy about the cover, thought it too simple, but after finishing the book I now like it.
Book source: Library

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