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When Light Left Us

Review

When Light Left Us

Milo, Ana and Hank all know the first day that their lives fell apart --- the day that their father drove off into the desert sun and never came back. Ana and Hank know the second day that their lives fell apart --- when Luz, the light, the intangible alien, came into their lives. And they know the day that they finally realized it --- the day that he left. Now Hank can’t make a single basket, Ana can’t close her eyes and Milo can’t take off his headphones. This is the Vasquez family: broken and splintered, each member struggling on their own, the bonds between them broken.

After their father left, Ana, Milo and Hank all felt the same emotion when Luz filled the void in their lives --- elation. As an alien unsure of where he came from, and curious to know about the people he saw, Luz put a part of himself in each of the Vasquez siblings. With Luz, Hank was a stronger basketball player than ever, Ana saw wonders every time she blinked and Milo always had a comforting voice in his head. Soon, however, Luz’s guiding influence begins to strain them all, and the conflict leaves them broken and lost for a second time. If they ever want to learn to stand on their own again, they’ll need to lean on each other first to get back up. Leah Thomas’ novel WHEN LIGHT LEFT US explores loss, grief, trauma and family in an honest and unique portrayal of a fractured family trying to find the light again.

"Readers who love realistic families, tough personal struggles and layered characters will find WHEN LIGHT LEFT US satisfying and meaningful, but individuals who also love unique stories will find that Thomas’ novel delivers in that aspect and in many more."

With WHEN LIGHT LEFT US, Leah Thomas demonstrates that novels don’t have to fit into one category: she blends contemporary fiction with science fiction and almost slightly paranormal elements. The result is a heartbreaking, truly unique story with astonishing depth. Sometimes science fiction relies on plot and lacks the strong themes and character development of contemporary novels, but this is not the case in Thomas’ novel. For the majority of the book, the plot is character-driven, focused on the slow struggle of each sibling, rather than on bombastic events, though the pace quickens dramatically leading up to the climax. Once readers start to understand each individual and submerge in each of their minds, this character focus is surprisingly compelling. However, the chronology of the story is slightly confusing at first --- the story jumps from the present to the past often and suddenly, and it may take some time for readers to gain a full understanding of how the events are working together, but the slow unraveling of what really happened when Luz left is a mystery that readers will delight in seeing unfold, layer by layer.

One of the strongest elements of the novel is the voice, or voices. Milo, Hank and Ana each have equal amounts of narration, and their mother also voices a large portion of the story, an element often unseen in young adult literature. While young adult authors generally focus on teens, it is refreshing to hear both the Vasquez’s mother and Milo --- only in second grade --- especially because they are so well developed, and this particular element helps to define the Vasquez family for the reader, because they see how each member is broken, and gain a true understanding of all of them, equally. These messy, fragile characters allow Thomas to truly explore what it means to be family, and the struggle that it can take to pull individuals back together after a tragedy, a theme that runs throughout the entire story. The novel also explores coming of age, social pressure, and responsibility.

Overall, Thomas’ story, with complex characters, intense emotions and some graphic scenes, lends itself more to older teens looking for a unique story with weight. Readers who love realistic families, tough personal struggles and layered characters will find WHEN LIGHT LEFT US satisfying and meaningful, but individuals who also love unique stories will find that Thomas’ novel delivers in that aspect and in many more.  

Reviewed by Rachel R., Teen Board Member on February 26, 2018

When Light Left Us
by Leah Thomas