Book review: What Light by Jay Asher

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Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm, and the only life she’s ever known is one where she spends eleven months of the year in Oregon, and Thanksgiving through Christmas in California. Sierra loves this life. She loves spending this time with her parents. She loves helping the customers. She loves everything about their family business. Sure, she misses her Oregon friends for one month of the year and her California bestie for the other eleven, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

This year’s a little different, though. Big box stores are taking over the Christmas tree market. Not as many people head out to private lots anymore, meaning that it might not be financially possible to keep the tree lot open for much longer. Still, Sierra is determined to enjoy this season. And her friend Heather is determined to find her a boyfriend so they can go on double dates for the few weeks they have together.

There’s a boy who works for her father who expresses some interest in her, but Sierra’s not having any of that. She’s much more intrigued by the cute, mysterious boy who always seems to be buying yet another Christmas tree. When Sierra finds out that he’s giving away the trees to families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one, she’s smitten. But then she finds out that the whole town is afraid of Caleb because of a secret in his past.

So, this book is really different from what I expected. I absolutely loved Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, both for its beautiful writing and the depth of the plot. I skipped over The Future of Us given its lackluster ratings, but as soon as I saw the cover and description for What Light, I knew I’d have to read it. What I didn’t expect was for it to be so fluffy.

Sure, Sierra goes through some challenges in this book. Her family is struggling to keep their business open. She’s torn between supporting her Oregon friends and making the most of the time she has with her California friends. She has to decide whether Caleb is worth it after learning about his past. But mostly, this book is just two teenagers staring at each other, starry-eyed and in instalove.

And that’s fine. Really, it is. If there’s one time of year that I’m okay with instalove, it’s around Christmas. But I expected more. Honestly, I was bored. It takes a long time for the story to find its footing, and once it does, I just think it could have been… more.

Caleb’s secret, for example? This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I thought it was really overblown. He didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t even hurt anyone. Am I reading too many new adult romances where the hero has crazy, violent secrets, so I’m desensitized to this stuff? Maybe. But I thought the fact that the entire town sees him as some kind of freak for something he did as a child was a little bit of overkill.

I didn’t understand the point of Andrew, either, the boy at the tree lot who has a crush on her. Was he supposed to be an antagonist? Was he supposed to be comic relief, getting toilet duty every time he looked at Sierra the wrong way? Was this supposed to be a love triangle? Sierra clearly had no feelings for him beyond thinking that he was cute. And all he ever did was run to her father to tattle on her whenever she spent time with Caleb.

I wanted to love this book. Unfortunately, I didn’t. My expectations were too high, so it was doomed from the start.

But that’s not to say that this book is awful. No, there were plenty of aspects that I liked. I liked Caleb. I liked the idea that a boy who is ostracized by his community would still make such an effort to redeem himself. I liked that despite spending a month in a trailer on a Christmas tree lot, Sierra and her family still had established traditions for the holidays. I liked Sierra’s parents and the fact that they let her be her own person and life her own life as much as possible, but they still expressed concern about her safety and wellbeing.

What Light turned out to be your average young adult romance – a decent way to spend a few hours, but nothing new or exciting.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

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