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September 1

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Review: A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

by Ann-Katrina

A Certain Slant of Light Cover

Back Cover of A Certain Slant of Light

Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: For the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen–terrified, but intrigued–is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

Three Quick Points About A Certain Slant of Light

  • Point 1: Classic voice wrapped in a contemporary setting. It felt more like reading historical literature than contemporary fiction, despite its 21st century setting.
  • Point 2: James and Helen (once she gets a body) are bunnies. And I don’t mean cute. I mean they like to get down and dirty. A lot. And passionately.
  • Point 3: More questions than answers. After the final page is closed, a lot of questions about the meaning of life and death are still lingering in the air, unanswered.

Full Review of A Certain Slant of Light

Before reading the full review, please note that there may be some spoilers. I tried to keep it vague enough not to spoil the entire story, but be warned. If you’d rather not take any chances, skip the synopsis and go straight to the final thoughts.

A Certain Slant of Light Synopsis

Helen has passed on, but her spirit remains as what she refers to as Light. To sustain her existence, she clings to living hosts and follows them about their lives, careful not to drift too far away.

Through her current host, a modern high school English professor, she meets James. He is also Light, but inhabiting the body of Billy Blake. At first, Helen is frightened that someone living (Quick) can see her, but soon discovers the true story.

As James and Helen come to know each other, their desire to connect on a physical level grows and they decide Helen needs a body. Both with physical bodies, they proceed to live the lives of their hosts, though they have none of their memories and each one has their own set of problems.

(Billy Blake is from a broken home where his older brother Mitch is his caretaker and Jenny Thompson lives with extremely religious parents whose world is quietly crumbling.)

Through these physical bodies, both James and Helen are able to figure out what happened to them and ultimately move on. Along the way, however, they make decisions that greatly affect the lives of their individual hosts.

Final Thoughts On A Certain Slant of Light

A Certain Slant of Light reminded me of The Sixth Sense (1999, M. Knight Shyamalan), except told from a ghost’s perspective. And when I closed the book, I realized it was more about how actions can affect others than a straightforward romance.

Using prose and pacing found usually in historical literature, Helen brings us through the story, explaining what it feels like to be Light, how it feels to find love with James, and her struggle with doing the right thing as opposed to following her desires when it comes to the lives of Billy and Jenny.

I didn’t care much for how the love developed between James and Helen; call me cynical, but I don’t entirely buy the love in two days scenario even if they were the only two Light on earth—in that respect, Whitcomb didn’t sell it for me—but I could understand their magnetism.

Plus, there was an undercurrent to the story: how James and Helen’s actions were affecting the lives of Billy and Jenny. Inadvertently, both James and Helen needed to help their hosts, whose souls had vacated their bodies beforehand, in order to free themselves and bring their hosts back to their rightful homes. In essence, James and Helen needed to do what Billy and Jenny could not.

Although Billy’s story was cut off due to perspective, it’s relatively simple to assume that he needed to confront his brother and father in order to move forward in his life. And Jenny needed to confront her parents—more specifically, her mother, and let them know who she was as a person rather than shrinking away into oblivion.

At the end of the book, there are plenty of strings untied, but it’s left up to the reader to tie them. For instance, in the case of Billy and Jenny, they seem to be in one fine mess, however, another way of looking at it would be that Billy and Jenny were drawn together for a deeper reason and they would continue forward, helping each other and possibly finding lasting love.

Also, one wonders about Helen’s first husband. After she was finally able to pass over, she sees James and they are together once again, but it was mentioned she had another husband who she had a child with—was James this husband? Again, a question for the reader to answer.

Finally, there’s plenty of allegory to decipher which brings up questions about the meaning of life and death and even God. Great book to pick up for discussions as there are likely to be many conflicting opinions. However, it’s important that the reader enjoys classic literature on some level, otherwise the motility could seem sluggish. It helps, too, if one is in the right state of mind before reading.

NB: There is some explicit sexual content, though very tastefully done, and some mature subjects. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone under 16—or at least, not mature enough to handle such content.

Rating: Worth every penny [TPB] (?)

A Certain Slant of Light at Amazon

Comments on Review: A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

  1. # Trisha wrote on September 1, 2009 at 9:33 pm:

    This sounds fascinating. I love the idea of a book written like a classic but with a contemporary setting. Thanks for the review!
    .-= ´s last blog ..A True Hero =-.

  2. # melissa dominic wrote on September 4, 2009 at 10:17 pm:

    i’ve wanted to read this book since i used to work in the kid’s/teen’s dept at the local bookstore. thanks for the review, i just may have to now!
    .-= ´s last blog ..There is Never Enough Rain =-.

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