I honestly had no idea what I was expecting when I started reading When Light Left Us. I had read the synopsis, of course, and it kind of made me a bit more confused, and when I started the book, read through it, and finished it, I came out feeling puzzled about the whole thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I did like When Light Left Us. I thought it was different and interesting, and kind of reminded me a little bit of some of my science fiction shows, but I just found it kind of hard to relate to any of the characters or really even enjoy the plot as much as I had hoped that I would. All in all, I felt kind of disappointed and unsatisfied about it, especially the ending (which still left me feeling a little perplexed).
“When Luz was with them, they weren’t annoyed with one another. The understood what they’d never understood in all the years of growing up without him. The Vasquezs understood they would never entirely understand one another, and that was okay.”
The Vasquez family broke apart when their father left, without goodbyes for some, leaving Maggie and her three children – Hank, Ana, and Milo – behind. Maggie is left to raise three children alone, and they all have their quirks and problems, but sometimes it’s just difficult.
Then Luz comes along, and changes everything. At first, for the better, and then things go to strange, dark places, leaving lives shattered and everyone in the family feeling broken.
“‘You’d be surprised at how much of a person is left behind after they go missing.'”
Left trying to find themselves and repair relationships, the four of them embark on a life without Luz. Milo talks very little and swears he can only hear a loud sound in his ears, causing him to always wear headphones. Ana doesn’t sleep – she rarely blinks and refuses to close her eyes. Hank is afraid to use his own hands, which no longer feel like his own, causing him problems at school, with friends, and with basketball. Maggie doesn’t understand, and tries her hardest to make the life of her children the best she can.
Throughout the book, it’s so difficult to figure out exactly what is going on. Nothing seems to be told in a timeline that would clear this up – the story essentially starts during the aftermath of when Luz is gone, and we get a glimpse into what life was like with Luz every now and again thanks to flashbacks. These are essential to the story, and reveal so much. It really leaves you guessing at what Luz actually is, who he is, etc.
“‘We can call him alien because it’s life we don’t understand, and we don’t really understand the stars. But we don’t really understand the holes in the world, either. We don’t know what springs up in the deep trenches of the ocean, in the unexplored caves of the Amazon. Nobody does.'”
I think part of the allure of When Light Left Us is the whole trying-to-figure-out-what-Luz-is thing. Sure, it was confusing at so many parts, but it was also intriguing and really grabs your attention. While I spent the entire book scratching my head and wondering what the heck was going on, I also couldn’t stop reading, looking for answers and devouring the writing that made this story so unique.
I think that this book was a bit long, and the pacing seemed kind of off in some places – for example, the last 100 pages seemed to drag on a bit, full of information that simply didn’t answer the questions. The ending left me wanting more answers than were given, and I felt like the family issues were not resolved as clearly as they could have been.
This is admittedly the first book I’ve read by Leah Thomas, and I was entranced by her writing style and thought she was able to create a family dynamic that was deep, emotional, and full of secrets, and I loved that. I am looking forward to reading her other books, including Because You’ll Never Meet Me.
I wish more focus would have been placed on Luz’s origin, as well as the children’s father who kind of just upped and left the family. I also wish I would have been better able to really like the characters – I think out of all of them, the only one I truly cared for was Hank. The rest just didn’t seem deep enough, maybe? I’m not sure.
If you’re a science fiction fan I would recommend this, especially if you like books that keep you guessing until the very end (because trust me, you’ll be guessing a lot throughout this book). I did enjoy it, and I’m glad I had the chance to read it. I do wish I had more positive things to say, and I wish I had been able to fall in love with the book like I had hoped I would.
Another note? That cover is freaking gorgeous.