Sometimes, life imitates art; sometimes, art imitates art. Because coincidence is a frequent visitor in my life, I was not surprised that this book came my way at the same time I was playing a role (I'm an actress as well as a writer) that had parallels to both Helen and Jenny. Jenny, the living, breathing character, is barely able to live or breathe: she feels trapped under the surveillance of her strict and very religious parents, but Helen's influence encourages her to step out of her comfort zone and stand up for herself. The scene in which Jenny slips on her toe shoes and dances again - which begins on page 89, for those of you who want to cheat and sneak a peek - is such a beautiful moment. Not only does Jenny let her guard down in front of someone else, but she utterly transforms when she begins to dance. Her posture, her presence, her confidence in that moment: this is the strong girl she could and should and will be. Ultimately, unknowingly, she helps Helen as much as Helen helps her. So though this book has a great deal to do with romance, as both women struggle to make sense of relationships that are both unexpected and unusual, and as beautiful as the first part of the book is, with the field and the flying and the daring to dream, it is the relationship between Helen and Jenny that really struck a chord with me. They share experiences, they observe each other, and they take care of each other. They are sisters, confidantes; they are mother and daughter; they are the same.
As she did in the previous tale, Whitcomb employs lyrical, beautiful words to express her characters' thoughts and feelings. My favorite passages include:
A sound vibrated through me like a note played on a cello, low and sad, and then the bow lifted off the string and there was silence. - Page 47
They were lovely, awkward creatures. - Page 76, Helen, observing two modern teenagers
I pictured the quality of light, the scent of damp earth, the piano music, a lilting melody, a folk song I couldn't place, sweet even in its minor keys. - Page 107
It was as if static electricity was running through my veins instead of blood. - Page 111
I was the moon by day, displaced and faded. - Page 137
Heaven felt to me now as far away as Wonderland or Oz - I believed, but I had no map. - Page 179
She'd fought her way through the storm, but I wanted to see that door open and the light of safety pour over her. - Page 216
I strongly recommend reading A Certain Slant of Light first. Though I suppose you could read Under the Light on its own, trust me, if you know the characters went through in the first book, it will make the second book all the more poignant. For example, the brief but beautiful moments when we see Mr. Brown, including:
Mr. Brown driving with his elbow out the open window of his car, looking so young and as if he would live forever, the briefcase on the seat beside him hiding his unfinished novel. - Page 131
Fellow writers will be moved by a certain scene in which Mr. Brown is featured. (...and I hope it moves you to write more, and to share your stories!)
If you appreciate lyrical stories and haunted hearts and you haven't read A Certain Slant of Light and Under the Light by Laura Whitcomb yet, you should.
Read a poem "written by" Helen's first host, a poet.
Read the poem by Emily Dickinson which inspired this book's title.
Related posts at Bildungsroman:
One-Shot: A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb
Booklist: Mind Readers and Ghostly Visitors
Booklist: If Then for Teens
Booklist: Multiple Narrators
Poetry Friday: A certain slant of light by Emily Dickinson