A moving story of friendship and survival told in beautiful lyrical writing that flows like the sea.
Thirteen-year-old Bonnie’s world is just her and her elderly Granda. It’s a quiet life – keeping out of trouble and away from the border guards – but Bonnie is restless. She longs to take to the sea and escape to a world of light, life and hope. When she stumbles on an apparently abandoned boat on the beach, it feels like all her dreams have been answered. However, when she returns to collect the boat, she finds it belongs to boy about her age who has washed up on the shore. The boy’s name is Ish and he has lost everything. Bonnie finds herself determined to help: a task that leads her to break the strict rules of their community. She doesn’t expect Ish to return her sacrifice by offering to take her with him. Despite all her dreams, Bonnie has no experience of the sea and only a vague idea of the dangers she will face if she decides to go. She longs for a new life but is she really prepared to sail with her new friend into the dangerous unknown?
The House of Light is a moving story of friendship and survival that’s told in beautiful lyrical writing. Written in third person but from Bonnie’s perspective, we easily equate with her and quickly admire her feisty spirt and willingness, where necessary, to defy the authorities. (It’s easy to see where Bonnie gets this from as Granda’s fighting spirit shines through from the moment we meet him.) Her new friend, Ish, takes a little longer to understand but this perfectly reflects the obvious trauma he has been through. Ish’s experiences are never directly narrated, being suggested instead through the scribbled images of a sky full of aeroplanes dropping bombs, broken buildings, fire, and people screaming.
This subtle approach to presenting the backstory of the book is unbelievably powerful. Indeed, the thing that really drew me into this book and kept me reader so eagerly was the intriguing setting of Bonnie’s world. In place of direct or lengthy descriptions, this is revealed through a series of short, yet impactful, snippets of information. This includes mentions of Border Notices and armed border guards who closely monitor everyone’s movements, references to a past time when they once had photos on laptops and phones, and the description of the tedious recitations Bonnie is expected to give at school on “The Rules of Civil Conduct.”
If you enjoyed this, why not try one of Julia Green’s other books such as To the Edge of the World or The Wilderness War. Alternatively, for another middle-grade story of friendship set in semi-dystopian world, I’d strongly recommend The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum.
Date: June 2019
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Author’s website: Julia Green