What Light by Jay Asher
At sixteen, Sierra is looking forward to spending Christmas in California again. Her parents own a Christmas tree farm in Oregon, and every year before Thanksgiving, they follow the trees to LA to sell the trees on their lot. She loves Oregon and her two best friends there, but also loves California and her best friend there. Unfortunately, she knows this might be the last year: independent tree lots are becoming fewer, and the business might go bust.
Then she meets Caleb, a boy with a past filled with rumors and a very violent incident.
This feel-good Christmas story is just right for a Hallmark special. Sierra’s own parents met at sixteen on this same tree lot. Can’t Sierra have a happy-ever-after romance too? Evidently she can. And it IS Christmas.
Missing from the story is all the pith and conversation you experienced with Thirteen Reasons Why, for example. There is little conflict. When Sierra’s parents find out about Caleb’s past, they allow her to decide that he is not really a violent character. The violent incident included a knife he pounded into his sister’s bedroom door. The “trust” issue should skid to a halt with violence when it comes to parents dealing with sixteen-year-old dating. Caleb never receives counseling, never is violent toward anyone again; in fact, he philosophically accepts all the abuse his friends and family heap on him. But again, it’s Christmas. The Light shines.
Sierra’s friends in Oregon want her home for a drama production where one of her best friends is suddenly the star. “Just take a train,” they indicate. While it doesn’t say where in California Sierra is, the northernmost city, Redding, (where there are lots of trees….) is over 19 hours to Portland. Not very realistic, and causes a huge rift when Sierra decides not to go.
It is tough to recommend this book because of the possible dating violence when Caleb has never received any help, “Christmas season” and “redemption” aside.