What Light

Book review by
Mary Cosola, Common Sense Media
What Light Book Poster Image
Charming, sweet, but bland holiday romance.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Information on how Christmas tree farms and lots are run. Sierra's good vocabulary is a running joke among her and her friends, with some unusual words used and defined.

Positive Messages

Don't believe gossip. Always approach people with compassion and empathy, because you can't tell from the outside what they've been through or are dealing with. Loyalty and trust are important in friendships and romance. Make the most of every moment in life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the characters are good people, if sometimes misunderstood. Sierra's an upbeat person and a trustworthy, loyal friend. Her girlfriends in Oregon and California are kind and supportive, and there's very little teen girl drama. Sierra and her parents are close, and even though she has some conflict with her dad, they talk through their issues. Caleb has problems in his past, but he works hard every day to be a good person and help others. He's always kind and respectful to Sierra, her friends, and her family.


A violent incident that involves a character chasing someone with a knife and stabbing a door is recounted in flashback.


What Light is a romance, so it has many descriptions of how handsome, pretty, or date-able characters are. The content is not sexually charged. Sierra and her friends discuss dating quite a bit, and a few of her friends are boy-obsessed. There are a few references to characters having made out, but nothing is shown or described. The contact between the dating characters is tame: lots of gazing into each others' eyes, hand-holding, and face caressing. A few kissing scenes, but again, nothing graphic or intense.


No swearing. Only coarse language is "boobs."


The only products or media mentioned are movies and television shows that are part of characters' holiday traditions: How the Grinch Stole Christmas, White Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One passing reference to a teen planning to be a designated driver for other teens on New Year's Eve.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byahuttoLMS December 5, 2016

Sweet Romance for the Holidays

This book is very different from Jay Asher's other, more gritty writing. It is a simple story of romance with a subplot about forgiveness and fresh starts... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMayberry June 15, 2018

What Light

This book is a good book to read around Christmas time. It includes romance, a little bit of mystery, but also realistic fiction.
Kid, 11 years old January 25, 2021

Really Good!

It was a great book to read around the holiday season!

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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