A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that What Light, by Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why), is a light holiday romance involving a teen girl whose family owns a Christmas tree farm in Oregon. Sierra and her family move to California for the holiday season every year to sell trees. Because business is slowing, this might be their last year making the trip, which makes Sierra sad, especially after she meets the mysterious Caleb. The book's story revolves around Sierra's friends in Oregon and California, her budding romance with Caleb, and how she balances her lives in Oregon and California. All the action is set against a backdrop of Christmas tradition: trees, decorations, gifts, baking, holiday movies, and parades. The subject matter and tone of the book are sedate, with little conflict between the characters. The few misunderstandings and quarrels that crop up are resolved quickly. Most of the characters are good people, even if they are misunderstood. Themes of loyalty, compassion, love, and friendship figure largely into the plot. There's no swearing, drugs, alcohol, or smoking, and the sexual content is limited to chaste kisses. It's a good option for readers who like wish-fulfillment romance stories.
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What's the story?
In WHAT LIGHT, Sierra's family makes their annual and perhaps final trip to their California Christmas tree lot from their tree farm in Oregon. She has to say good-bye to her close friends but looks forward to spending a month with her California bestie and to the fun and bustle of the tree lot. She has never dated while working on the tree lot in California, mostly because her dad warns off the lot's boy employees, who are the only boys she meets. This year, however, she meets a customer, the handsome and mysterious Caleb. Despite the widespread rumor about a dark incident in his past that has made him an outcast in town, she takes the plunge and gets to know him. What Light follows the ups and downs of their fast-paced romance. They each try to figure out how much to reveal to each other and how serious they should get, given that Sierra must return to Oregon the day after Christmas.
Is it any good?
Sweet but bland, this holiday romance will entertain teens looking for a light read. The romance in What Light works on a fantasy and escapist level. Sierra and Caleb connect at first glance, and their romance blossoms quickly. Their interactions are cute and dreamy, and the story is upbeat. The book's filled with positive messages and relationships, most dealing with trust, friendship, and honesty. What little drama and conflict there is -- a jealous boy, Caleb's past, Sierra's impending departure -- feels forced and a little silly. Most of the characters are nice people; unfortunately none are given much depth by author Jay Asher.
The low stakes and uninteresting characters don't make for a compelling read for much of What Light. The Christmas tree business is a nice hook around which to base a holiday romance, and Asher paints lovely portraits of the two towns where the novel is set. In some instances, he gives so much detail about the characters' actions that the book reads like a movie script. This occasionally bogs the story down, and it's as though he's making up for the lack of action with minute detail.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how teen romances are portrayed in books and movies such as What Light. Do you think instant romance is believable? Is it ever a good idea to get serious with someone as quickly as many characters do in these types of stories?
Does your family have any special holiday traditions? Do you do the same things from year to year, or do you like to introduce new traditions as your family grows and changes?
How well do you handle transitions? In What Light, Sierra leaves her hometown for a month every year. Have you ever gone away for that long? What's it like? If you haven't, do you think it would be a fun break from your usual life and routine?
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