A Sudden Light

Originally published March 2015

It’s a hot Seattle summer, you’re living in what amounts to the world’s largest rotting tree house, you think your Dad might be losing his mind and your Aunt is kinda hot—but she may also be trying to convince your Grampy he’s got Alzheimer’s. And oh yeah, there’s a ghost that visits you on a regular basis.

What’s a 14-year-old to do?

That’s the premise of Garth Stein’s “A Sudden Light“—his most recent release and an exquisite ghost story about love, loss and making things right with the world so that souls, living and dead, can find the peace they deserve.

“Clever Trevor” Riddell and his father Jones are on a quest to see that Samuel, Jones’ father, will surrender his rights to the family homestead, to Jones and his sister Serena. Girl’s been taking care of Samuel since Jones was banished in his teens to a private school on the East Coast. And she’s got PLANS.

Time’s a’ wastin’ for Serena, who can’t get Samuel to sign the papers, and now that Jones is homeless thanks to the loss of his boat-building business and a separation from his wife, he’s got time to finally return and see if he can set things straight.

But Trevor notices something strange is afoot from the moment he arrives at the The North Estate, and as he takes it upon himself to learn more about the home’s history and that of the original patriarch, Elijah Riddell, he begins to understand that it’s more than just his parent’s future he’s trying to sort out—it’s the entire bloodline.

It was an engaging read for me—covering a lot of my favorite territory, from familial dysfunction and twisted relationships to mystery, tragedy and love’s redemption. And the setting, at first glance somewhat decrepit, really was kind of magical—a ginormous home made from trees, long-forgotten gardens, an old barn, rundown cabin and a cemetery for a few—overlooking the Pacific. It was easy to get lost in the blackberry brush and in the skyscraping treetops alongside memories of Harry and Benjamin.

I’d even think this was a good book for tweens on up, if they are mature enough to handle a subtle, yet possibly incestuous storyline in concert with a homosexual relationship. Nothing graphic—it’s a sweet love story through and through. And … there’s ghosts. Everyone loves a ghost.

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