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...
Morgan Grant and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Clara, would like nothing more than to be nothing alike.
Morgan is determined to prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes she did. By getting pregnant and married way too young, Morgan put her own dreams on hold. Clara doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her predictable mother doesn’t have a spontaneous bone in her body.
With warring personalities and conflicting goals, Morgan and Clara find it increasingly difficult to coexist. The only person who can bring peace to the household is Chris—Morgan’s husband, Clara’s father, and the family anchor. But that peace is shattered when Chris is involved in a tragic and questionable accident. The heartbreaking and long-lasting consequences will reach far beyond just Morgan and Clara.
While struggling to rebuild everything that crashed around them, Morgan finds comfort in the last person she expects to, and Clara turns to the one boy she’s been forbidden to see. With each passing day, new secrets, resentment, and misunderstandings make mother and daughter fall further apart. So far apart, it might be impossible for them to ever fall back together.
This book really took me by surprise. At the outset I wasn't sure where the story was going to take me and I had a bit of trouble tracking the parallel storylines of Morgan as a teen (17 years ago) and Clara in the present. However, as the two storylines began to converge, I became more and more invested in the story.
There are a lot of twists and turns in this story, so I'm gong to try and avoid any spoilers. I do want to point out some of the things that I thought the book did really well.
First was the idea that regret can exist alongside hope and happiness. Morgan and Clara have been dealt a hugely traumatic hand, and as the story unfolds they learn more and more about themselves and their families. Throughout the story we see how both Morgan and Clara are doing the best they can, making decisions based on the information they have, which is sometimes incomplete. We see both regret decisions, but always have hope that it will get better.
The second thing that I really enjoyed was the idea that we are not only one thing. For instance- at the outset of the story we see Clara's dad having some preconcieved notions about Miller, the boy Clara likes, and that view colors the way everyone sees Miller. Throughout the story we see that Miller contains multitudes, he is at once a total stereotypical teenage boy and a thoughtful and understanding young man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders without complaint. As the story progresses we see this over and over again with each of our main characters. Morgan is not just predictable, Clara isn't just reckless, Jonah isn't just stoic... they all have layers that are slowly peeled away throughout the story.
By 1/4 of the way through the book I couldn't put it down because I wanted to see where these characters would end up. While the ending isn't exactly the perfect Happily Ever After that we sometimes want after tragedy, it does leave you with the understanding that these people will be okay and that's really what you want in life. To know you'll hit rough roads, but come out the other side able to move forward and be okay.
We all came to the powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling threads of our lives got pulled into a braid--tied to the back of everything we'd been doing all along to get us here. There will be death and playing dead, there will be screams and unbearable silences, forever-silences, and a kind of time-travel, at the moment the gunshots start, when we look around and see ourselves as we are, in our regalia, and something in our blood will recoil then boil hot enough to burn through time and place and memory. We'll go back to where we came from, when we were people running from bullets at the end of that old world. The tragedy of it all will be unspeakable, that we've been fighting for decades to be recognized as a present-tense people, modern and relevant, only to die in the grass wearing feathers." (from Goodreads)
I read this book as part of my Indigenous Lit and the West course at Montana State University. It was... difficult. It was also pretty amazing. Told from multiple viewpoints the story unravels in a spiral. You are introduced to characters, introduced to their lives and struggles and hopes. Slowly connections start to form, a relative here, a passing acquaintance there. Each story is both completely individual and one thread in the whole tapestry. In that way I found myself deeply invested in the characters and their chapters, while also finding myself jumping backwards to double check if I had really read what I thought I read. The context changing as the spiral tightens. Everything leading to the powwow and the events that unfold there. I won't go into it, to talk about where it all leads is to spoil the ending and the ending is both shocking and the inevitable conclusion of the paths the characters were all walking.
There, There somehow manages to be both uniquely Native American while providing a universality that allows those who don't share this specific history to make a connection nonetheless. There, There deserves all the accolades and awards it has received. If you haven't read it, do. It's one that I know I will refer back to and read again.
A Question on Analyzing Books:
So like I said, we read this book as part of my Indigenous Lit course and as part of that course we dug deep into the books we read. Stories by and about Native American writers like Morning Dove and Tommy Orange. Books published 100 years ago and those published just last year. As we read we looked for meaning, tied the stories on the pages to the events occurring at the time, argued about what the author might have meant by a reference. Through it all we worked together, and sometimes against each other, to figure out why these books in particular were important, why the author wrote them, what importance they might have seen.
Sometimes there were interviews that we could reference or other articles that would give insight to what the author felt or meant, but more often then not it was just us, guessing at meaning by using the clues were were able to pull from the story and our knowledge of the time the story was set in or even written in. It's a fun exercise and I enjoy the debate, of seeing where our personal biases and experiences color our interpretation. Still, something about it has always left me on edge, because I have seen in teaching where a question on a state exam or a story in an ELA unit will give a definite answer to something in a story only to have the actual authors of the story come out and say "well, that's not what I meant at all". All of this is to say that whenever possible I try to ask the author, and I try to impress upon my students to ask the author. Even if they don't answer, at least there is an attempt to get to the heart of it.
For me I was delighted to see that he lectured much in the same way I teach. Basically, here's what we should absolutely remember to say, but also let me tell you this cool story. Orange was concerned that he was not a lecturer, but I found the whole thing pretty spot on. At there end there was time for questions, which is where this whole thing really comes back together for me.
I was lucky enough to be able to ask the last question of the night and I chose to ask about something that had come up in our discussions in class. There, There opens with what we generally categorized (in class) as a non-fiction essay prologue that speaks to the violent history that Native Americans had to deal with in the US. There is also an interlude that delves back into those topics. As a class we talked about the importance of the prologue and why Orange might have included it. We talked about how it gave the book context, gave it a backstory. We talked about how if you were not a person with a knowledge of how Native Americans were treated in the US, it would help frame the story to come. So last night at the lecture I asked Orange why he had chosen to write what was essentially a non-fiction Prologue before moving into the book proper.
His response was pretty simple, and made total sense, while not at all being anything we had discussed in class. Orange first said that he didn't even know that he had written a non-fiction essay. That it was just writing and the information was important to the story. He also said that what he loves about prologues is that you don't have to follow any of the rules that you set for the rest of the book. His book is told from multiple perspectives set in the present day, this important information didn't particularly fit into that format, so it became the prologue. He said the other great thing about a prologue is that if you're a person who hates a prologue you can just skip it and still get the story. This information, while important, wasn't part of the narrative proper and so if you read it, the information enriched the story, but if you didn't read it, you would still get the story. In all the analyzing we did, these weren't things we considered. That isn't to say the things we spoke about were wrong, they just simply weren't the whole picture.
Which brings me back around to my dilemma. How do you have students (or adults for that matter) make personal connections and analyze literature while also balancing the authors actual perspective? Do authors like us to reach out and ask, and if so what is the best way to do so? What if the author is no longer living- is there a way to figure it out or is it enough to simply say "we may never know what they truly meant, but here is what we can infer"?
These are questions that I don't have an answer to, but I'm glad I was given the opportunity to ask Orange last night, his answer enhanced and shifted my reading of his book, which is always an exciting thing.
While there is no video of the lecture I attended last night, I am attaching a video of Orange speaking at Politics and Prose at the Wharf in June 2018. He reads from the book and at the 12:20 mark he specifically speaks to the prologue.
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