All the Little Lights
By: Jamie McGuire
Release Date: May 28, 2018
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The first time Elliott Youngblood spots Catherine Calhoun, he’s just a boy with a camera, and he’s never seen a sadder and more beautiful sight. Both Elliott and Catherine feel like outcasts, yet they find an easy friendship with each other. But when Catherine needs him most, Elliott is forced to leave town.
Elliott finally returns, but he and Catherine are now different people. He’s a star high school athlete, and she spends all her free time working at her mother’s mysterious bed-and-breakfast. Catherine hasn’t forgiven Elliott for abandoning her, but he’s determined to win back her friendship…and her heart.
Just when Catherine is ready to fully trust Elliott, he becomes the prime suspect in a local tragedy. Despite the town’s growing suspicions, Catherine clings to her love for Elliott. But a devastating secret that Catherine has buried could destroy whatever chance of happiness they have left. (from Goodreads.com)
So this book hit me out of nowhere. I picked the book up on Kindle Unlimited because the cover was gorgeous and the synopsis sounded interesting. I'm a sucker for a YA Romance that's laced with drama and mystery. I was however a little worried about some of the characterizations that might come up in the book. Catherine is constantly bullied for who her family was and what they did in the past, not to mention that the downfall of the company they owned led to Catherine being raised in poverty. Early on we learn that Elliott is going to face a lot of racism as he is, what appears to be, the only Native American living in this small town. On top of that his family is a disaster, with an abusive father (both emotionally and physically) and a mother who can't seem to get out of her own way. He ends up living with his aunt and uncle for a time and that's where he meets Catherine.
On the one hand this is a fairly typical teen romance. These 2 outcasts find each other when they really don't have anyone else to turn to. Elliott's confidence bolsters Catherine when she is faced with bullies and Catherine's quiet demeanor seems to soften some of Elliott's rough edges. The story jumps away from the sweet relationship when Catherine's world comes crashing down and Elliott is forced to leave her behind without a word for several years. Generally I try to avoid spoilers of any kind in a review, but I don't think that's possible with this book. So I'll give you the non-spoilery ending and then we'll toss a break in here and get to the nitty-gritty of what exactly made this book so stand out in my mind.
Non-Spoilers for the win!
So.... without giving anything away, Catherine's life goes down hill in the years that Elliott is gone and when he returns, hopeful that Catherine will forgive him, he finds her broken and unable to trust anyone. When the town decides that Elliott is part of a local kidnapping and murder (based mostly on his sheer size and "Indianess" ) both Catherine and Elliott have to learn to trust each other if they are going to survive. These two characters are hopelessly co-dependent, wanting nothing more than to need each other and help each other, but having no idea how to do that in a healthy manner. Neither has a great role model at the outset of the story to show them what that looks like. As the story progresses we see them finding those people, the ones who can help them open up and begin to trust people again. As that happens, we see their relationship start to really come into it's own and in the end we see these two people really show up for each other and prove that they are in it for the long haul.
This is a great book that throws convention out the window and includes a twist in the final act that legitimately had me saying "No shit!" out loud to an empty room as I read.
Now... On to the Spoilers...
Okay- you have been warned- last chance to turn back- because, honestly, what comes next will basically ruin the book for you if you go into it knowing this twist.
Here we go... the tragedy that befalls Catherine is the death of her beloved father, leaving Catherine with her mother, who, by all accounts, was never a great mom and who now is barely taking care of herself, let alone Catherine. In fact, it's so bad that the school counselor meets with Catherine on the regular and has called DHS in the past. When Elliott's mother drags him away on the very day Catherine's father dies, Catherine is well and truly broken, to the extent that she struggles to make it through the day. She goes to school and then comes home and works at the bed & breakfast that her mother opens in their house.
Here's where stuff gets hinkey... the regulars at the B&B are the only people that Catherine interacts with regularly and they are a motley crew. There's a 5 year old that is seemingly always left to her own devices, the father who is verbally and physically abusive to everyone, especially Catherine, an Uncle named Toad who is messy and belligerent, a kind older woman who helps Catherine out so she can start to form some semblance of a normal life and a few others. As the story unfolds we learn that no one is allowed in the house besides paying guests, that these paying guests (other then the regulars) routinely go missing, that Catherine has to barricade herself in her bedroom at night so that people don't come in, and that her mother, Mavis, is getting more and more unhinged.
Everyone in the town thinks the house is haunted and Mavis is crazy. Elliott thinks Catherine is in grave danger and needs to get out, the guests have decided that Catherine can never leave and Catherine, well, she has resigned herself to a life inside the walls of the B&B.
So what is really going on here? I'm not going to lie, I spent an absolutely insane amount of time trying to figure it out. I wondered if the guests were all ghosts. Had they all been murdered in this house, this town, and now were doomed to stay for an eternity? Were they some sort of cult? Witches? Was this a coven? My mind went all sorts of places trying to figure who they were and why they had such a hold on Catherine.
As it turns out, the truth was far simpler and much sadder then any fantastical thing my mind thought up. In the end (and here's where I said "holy shit") Mavis had simply had a full breakdown when her husband died and began to suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which is often known as Split Personalities. Where ghosts or witches would have added a supernatural twist to the story, this was painfully real. No wonder Catherine didn't want anyone in the house to see her mother, who she very much loves, switch to the personality of a man who would just as soon beat Catherine as look at her. The murder that Elliott is accused of? Actually committed by one of Mavis' personalities, because even the worst of them still feels the need to "protect" Catherine. Knowing that Catherine has been living with and trying to handle her mother and her mother's illness alone explains so much and immediately after the reveal I found myself replaying earlier scenes with this information in mind and seeing all click together. This reveal, that Mavis had DID, changed my understanding of everything that had come before.
This book is heartbreaking and this recap didn't even get into the bullying and racism that these two kids deal with throughout the book. Kids deal with this kind of stuff all the time, probably more kids then we know because the urge to keep it a secret and protect your loved ones is huge and small town hate is no joke. McGuire manages to weave together a teen romance, a mystery and a hard look at what it's like to live with mental illness all on one book. I wasn't expecting it, but holy shit do I appreciate it.
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