Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on February 13th 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When Light Left Us by Leah Thomas is one of the more unique books I’ve read lately. At its heart is the Vasquez family, in particular, siblings Milo, Ana and Hank, who are reeling from the fact that their father has just walked out of their lives without so much as a goodbye. They are all trying to cope with the loss as best as they can, until one night something happens that changes everything…a shimmering alien figure named Luz appears in the canyon behind their house. Luz fills the void left by their father, bonding with each of the siblings in his own way. Until Luz disappears without a word too…taking something vital from each of them.
Struck by the sense of loss all over again, Milo, Ana, and Hank are left to pick up the pieces and attempt to go about their lives as normal. It’s much easier said than done and all three siblings flounder, filled with questions about why their father left them, why Luz left them, and how can they ever feel close to or trust anyone again.
Will the Vasquez kids get their lives back on track? What were Luz’ motivations for coming into their lives and then leaving them so abruptly? What did he take from them when he left? All of these questions and so many more began filling my head as soon as I started reading this moving story about family.
I thought the focus on family was the highlight of When Light Left Us. Even though the book itself centered a lot on the alien Luz and the impact he had on each of the Vasquez siblings, it was the family itself and how the siblings dealt with the losses they experienced that really kept me reading. Their struggles to function on a daily basis, their hesitation to trust and connect with others, and even their own now-awkward interactions with each other at home all felt so realistic as was their mother’s reaction. First, Maggie’s husband walks out on them, then her children experience something together that can’t really even be explained but obviously continues to haunt them many months later, to the point where they can barely function. Maggie loves her children more than anything in the world and is overwhelmed and frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be anything she can do to help them. All of the pain this family experiences is just so palpable. I ended up really caring about them and wanting to know that they could make it through this.
Expected the unexpected. I’m kind of a sci fi nut, so I was also a big fan of the twistedness of the whole Luz storyline. I loved how original this part of the storyline was and I loved how I initially felt a bit of an E.T. vibe from Luz with the way he came into these children’s lives and filled the void left by the father who abandoned them. The E.T. vibe didn’t last long though as Luz ultimately ends up being a much more complex character than I was expecting and a bit more of an ass if I’m being truly honest. I won’t go into any more details so as not to spoil anything but definitely if you like complex characters like I do, keep your eyes on Luz.
A final element that I thought was very well done was the way the story was presented from multiple points of view. Thomas gives us the perspectives of each of the three Vasquez siblings, as well as a few chapters from their mother, and even as we move further into the book, a few chapters from Luz himself. Since I was so invested in this family, I liked being able to have a glimpse directly into each of their thoughts to get an honest look at how they were each doing. The Luz chapters were especially illuminating since we finally get a look at what is driving his actions with respect to this family.
As much as I enjoyed When Life Left Us overall, I have to admit that it started out super confusing and I almost DNF’ed it about a quarter of the way through the story. I like reading and putting together the pieces of a mystery as much as the next person, but in this case, for the longest time it didn’t feel like any of the pieces were fitting together at all. I just kept getting more and more pieces and setting them aside, waiting for them to finally make sense. Once they did start to make sense, it was very satisfying, but I just thought it took way too long to get to that point. I’m glad I pushed through and made it to the end, but if I hadn’t become so invested in the family so quickly, I’m pretty sure I would have given up on the book.
When Light Left Us is a beautiful story about how a family has the power to overcome their struggles if they stick together. I’d obviously recommend it to anyone who loves stories that focus on families and relationships, but any science fiction fan would probably enjoy this as well. If you’re impatient and like for the stories you read to make sense from the get-go, this might not be a good fit for you. Even though I had issues with that, however, I still very much enjoyed the story overall.
When the Vasquez siblings’ father left, it seemed nothing could remedy the absence in their lives. . . until a shimmering figure named Luz appeared in the canyon behind their house.
Luz filled the void. He shot hoops with seventeen-year-old Hank’s hands. He showed fourteen-year-old Ana cinematic beauty behind her eyelids. He spoke kindly to eight-year-old Milo. But then Luz left, too, and he took something from each of them. As a new school year begins, Ana, Hank, and Milo must carry on as if an alien presence never altered them. But how can they ever feel close to other people again when Luz changed everything about how they see the world and themselves?
In an imaginative and heartfelt exploration of human—and non-human—nature, Leah Thomas champions the unyielding bonds between family and true friends.