The following is a guest review Brenda Winter Hansen, someone JB now has the great pleasure to work with. Her bona fides are listed after her review, should you require them, otherwise take JB’s word that she’d have fit in at SMB easily but would’ve needed more salty chips – and salsa – than we normally kept on hand…
In A Trick of Light, three very different misfits who have suffered significant losses deal with the hand fate has dealt them. Desperation and determination lead each of them down different and often intersecting paths until they weave themselves into a clever satisfying narrative that reminds us how often love, loss, and rebirth are tightly bound within the stories of all our lives.
Nia is a teenager who has been kept away from the real world her whole life by a loving (yet intensely controlling) father with the best of intentions. Raised in a virtual reality world, she is a true digital native and hungers for the real world and visceral connections with real people more than anything. Cameron is the young adult son of a computer genius who disappeared in a freak storm on the lake when Cameron was very young. Cameron tempts fate by sailing into the recurring freak storm and is struck by lightning which changes his life and mind forever. Cameron’s best friend Juaquo hasn’t been the same since his mom died from cancer. He tries to keep up the façade of normal life but he’s coming apart at the seams.
This character-driven origin story set in a near-future near-apocalypse world, does a great job of keeping the characters realistic. Their authentic actions and dialogue drive the plot forward in a believable, if not always elegant, manner. But what about young adulthood is elegant? The authors reflect an astute awareness of the emotional inner life of teens and how their attempts to build relationships sometimes end up alienating them. When they do connect, their darker and often destructive emotions rise to the top to fight against the injustices of their world. A healthy dose of creepy cool and gruesome elements pepper this novel without being over the top disgusting or gratuitous. There is plenty action and intrigue that kept me page turning until the end.
Some readers might find the plot a bit drawn out, but believability of the characters made up for it beautifully. The relationship building between Nia and Cameron is well done; from their awkward moments and visceral yearning, to conflicts and resolutions. It’s Juaquo who needs more attention in this story. I found myself wanting additional back story so the brotherly bond between Cameron and Juaquo would feel more believable. I wondered if the authors considers splitting the narrative one more time so the reader has Juaquo’s perspective as well. Without him as a third narrator, Juaquo’s presence feels a bit more like a plot prop when it could have been a pivotal role in the formation of this powerful trio and an even more powerful ending.
The digital world is a constant feature in the landscape of this novel, and there is even an out loud reference to the seminal Ready Player One. With cinematic storytelling, one can easily envision the conflation of virtual and real worlds. A Trick of Light bears the influence of The Matrix (but not overly so) and I can easily imagine (and hope to see) this as a movie. The complications of dealing with social media as a teen in the 21st century is tangled among a narrative that questions reality. What is real? Who is real? In the end you are left to wonder if feelings are the realest thing we have since they seem to be what define us the most. Without feelings, who are we?