Sunday, December 20, 2015

With a Little Help from My Friends: This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

Mom was supposed to come home yesterday after her two-week vacation. Fourteen days. Said she needed a break from everything (See also: Us) and that she would be back before the first day of school. I waited up all night, hoping, hoping I was just being paranoid, that my pretty-much-never-wrong gut had made some kind of horrible mistake, and I watched the sun rise against the wall, my all-the-way-insides knowing the truth: we are alone, Wrenny and me.

I will do whatever I have to. No one will ever pull us apart. This means keeping things as normal as possible. Faking it.

Normal got gone with Dad.

And Lucille is good at faking it. Her father was taken away in the middle of a mental breakdown after trying to choke her mother and is at a halfway house somewhere. And with her mother's disappearance, it all falls to seventeen-year-old Lucille, determined somehow to keep her little sister with her, to keep their secret from the neighbors and their teachers, to find a way to pay the rent and utilities, to feed themselves, and to hold out until her mom returns or she turns eighteen and can become Wren's legal guardian, whichever comes first.

The month's bills are already coming in, and Lucille lucks into a part-time waitressing job at a small Mexican-themed bar and grill. Fred the owner expects his "girls" to be flashily made up, in short shorts and high heels, but he is also protective of them, and with pay and tips, Lucille can just cover the most important bills. Her best friend Eden tries to help, staying with Wren at night and trying to keep her own mother from finding out that Lucille and Wren are alone. To do so, she has to have help covering her absences and driving Lucille home at night from her twin brother Digby.

Lucille has known Eden and Digby since they were nine years old, and Digby has a committed relationship with his girlfriend Elaine. But as they are brought together by her secret, Lucille begins to recognize that she has strong and undeniable feelings for Digby, and when he begins to show that he also has an attraction to her, Lucille doesn't know what to do.

His hand is still resting on my foot. I am a giant foot, his hand a magical giant hand, and it is all over me. Breath. Less.

"What are you doing?" Who is this boy I've known for most of always, and why is he everything?

Then Eden gets in trouble with her mom for skipping her evening ballet classes, and Digby takes over staying with Wren, and he and Lucille draw closer. Eden discovers the feelings between her brother and Lucille, and she and Lucille quarrel. Elaine discovers that Digby is spending too much time with Lucille, and their teachers are asking questions she cannot quite answer.

As we say, it's complicated, and the complications of her life threaten to swamp Lucille completely as she feels more and more alone, in Estelle Laure's This Raging Light (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015),  In an absorbing and lyrical narrative, Laure captures the picture of  a strong-minded but nearly overwhelmed girl on the cusp of maturity, trying to carry adult responsibilities on her own shoulders. The portrayal of Lucille, Eden, and Digby, three well-intentioned young people caught in the complexities of life, shows them struggling to do the right thing in a situation they cannot fully control. Young adult readers will find much they recognize and much to like in these well-drawn characters, and the author even fleshes out the peripheral adults honestly and with respect for their own moral conflicts within this situation. This is a well-written novel, marred a little by the rather rushed and melodramatic "happy ending," but all in all, well worth the time of thoughtful readers.

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