Today’s review is dedicated to Lisa Thompson’s new middle-grade novel The Light Jar, published by Scholastic.
What it’s about
The story starts with 11-year-old Nate and his Mum driving away from home in the middle of the night. We don’t know where they are going or why, but it’s clear that tension is in the air – Nate’s mother is jumpy and nervous and not encouraging singalongs in the car as she normally does.
The two end up at an abandoned cottage that they once knew in better times, when it wasn’t falling apart and inhabited by a lonely chicken. They make the house as inhabitable as possible and then Nate’s mum says she’s popping out for groceries and will be back soon. The only trouble is … she isn’t. As the days pass, Nate becomes increasingly nervous and scared for himself and his mother. Where has she gone? Is she in trouble? Or has she abandoned him alone in the forest?
While waiting for his mother’s return, Nate meets the mysterious Kitty, who says she lives in a nearby mansion. She’s desperate for Nate’s help in solving a treasure map and enlists his reluctant help. However, it soon becomes clear that there is more than one mystery to solve in Nate’s and Kitty’s lives.
What I thought of the book
Quite simply, I was blown away by The Light Jar. It’s a book of many layers – it’s a mystery, an adventure (of sorts), and a book that carefully examines the world of domestic abuse – not physical, but emotional. Nate’s father left when he was only six – moving across the ocean to live with his new love in New York. Nate’s mum eventually starts a relationship with Gary, who seems fun and nice until he moves in and starts exerting control over Nate’s mum. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Nate has experienced more than his fair share of change.
Nate’s backstory is gently teased out of him by his imaginary friend, Sam, and Thompson is careful to never let the bleakness become too dark for younger readers. What one is left with, instead, is a sense of sadness and injustice and a hope that life will be better for Nate and his mum. Throughout the story, Nate is made to step outside of his comfort zone, not only through the terrifying reality of his mother’s disappearance but also through the challenges that Kitty presents him with in her treasure hunt. It is through these expeditions that Nate is helped to address the unhappiness and tragedy of his past so that he can move forward a stronger person.
All this might seem like a little too much for young readers (I’d say this was suitable from age 10 and up) but Thompson handles the issues very well. Adults might be more worried by Nate’s situation than younger readers who, I am sure, are resilient enough to experience the issues raised by this story. I couldn’t put the book down, as I wanted to find out exactly who Nate was underneath his capable exterior and why his mother had suddenly walked away.
Lisa Thompson is a new writer to me, although her first book, The Goldfish Boy, was a cracking success in 2017. I’m going to make sure I grab the book as soon as it’s returned to the school library so I can enjoy more of her writing.