This Raging Light

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
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Intense, uplifting tale of teen holding her family together.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lucille is determined to stay in school herself and to keep her sister in school. Two characters ditch school and go to Philadelphia to see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Lucille and Eden quote Dylan Thomas and Virginia Woolf.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about looking out for your loved ones and taking responsibility, no matter who fails you along the way. Also being honorable in your relationships and appreciating the kindness of friends and strangers.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lucille doesn't always make the right decisions, but she has a strong moral compass and is especially determined to protect her little sister, Wren. Though the girls' parents are bogged down in their own troubles and largely absent, the parents and family of Lucille's best friend are helpful, nurturing, and supportive. Mysterious "angels" see to it that the girls have food in the house and take care of them in other ways -- even the boss of the restaurant where Lucille works (in a skimpy outfit) to support herself and Wren turns out to be good.

Violence

In a flashback, we learn that Lucille and Wren's current troubles began when their father developed a mental illness and attacked their mother, and Lucille had to physically get between them.

Sex

Lucille's intense, hormonally charged love for Digby, who shares her feelings but is in a committed relationship, leads to some passionate kissing and, in one scene, Digby's hand under her T-shirt. Also a lot of guilt. Lucille describes a previous episode of eluding a lecherous classmate:

"It was like he had a bomb in his pants that was going to go off and explode the world if he didn't get what he wanted, if I didn't let him touch me. I had to pry myself away that last day, or I would have lost my virginity against a dirty wall, and I wouldn't let him move me to a second location when he said his parents weren't home and we should go there. He promised he wouldn't push me, but I knew better. The brakes don't seem to work so well once you get past a certain point."

Language

Multiple uses of "f--k," "s--t," "piss," "ass," "douche bag," and more.

Consumerism

Occasional mention of real brands, such as Disneyland, and pop-culture figures such as Frank Sinatra and Mr. Rogers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In one scene, two teens share tequila and a cigarette. Cooking with liquor comes up in conversation, as one adult is a caterer and a kid is obsessed with Food Network.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that This Raging Light (the title taken from a Dylan Thomas poem), by first-time author Estelle Laure, deals with the plight of a 17-year-old girl who's trying to take care of her little sister and dodge the attention of social services after her father lands in a mental institution and her mother abandons them. She does this all while overwhelmed by her feelings for a boy she's suddenly in love with, who's already in a committed relationship. Tough, determined Lucille doesn't always do the conventionally right thing (she forges her mom's signature on school notes and takes a restaurant job where she has to wear skimpy clothing), but her moral compass is well calibrated, and however strong the hormones, she's troubled about being involved in a cheating relationship. There's some steamy kissing and hands under clothing but no graphic detail, and in one scene teens share tequila and a cigarette. There's plentiful strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and "douche bag." The story involves many positive messages about taking responsibility for your own life, taking care of your loved ones, community, and kindness. The next installment in the series is scheduled for fall 2016.

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What's the story?

As the school year starts, 17-year-old Lucille realizes that she and her little sister, fourth-grader Wren, are on their own: Their musician father landed in a mental institution after he attacked their mom, and over the summer their mom took off on a "vacation" that seems likely to last a while. Sure that they'll be separated if social services finds out about the situation, Lucille struggles with the day-to-day responsibilities but also receives help from unexpected (and sometimes unknown) sources. Complicating things even more: She's in love with her best friend's brother, and he seems to share her feelings, but he's in a committed relationship.

Is it any good?

First-time author Estelle Laure puts a lot of heart and relatable conflict into the story of 17-year-old Lucille's struggles to keep what's left of her family together. Sometimes tender, sometimes ragingly hormonal, sometimes foul-mouthed and snarky, Lucille's narrative voice reflects her determination and the fact that she's frequently out of her depth. From love interest Digby and beloved little sister Wren to a platoon of quirky townspeople and mysterious strangers, the supporting cast is full of surprises as Lucille tries to make things work; there's a lot to root for as she deals with her parents' neglect and irresponsibility.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories of kids left to fend for themselves. What's the appeal of that theme? What other examples do you know?

  • Do you know any families where one of the kids essentially functions as the designated adult? What do you think is most difficult about that person's situation?

  • If you suddenly had to support yourself and maybe your family, too, what would you do? Whom do you think would help?

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