5th February '18
A deeply original mystery so tenderly told in the most profound, sensitive, intricate, authentic and moving of ways.
Like a moth attracted to the light, I was instantly drawn to reading The Light Jar due to its intriguing plot however I hadn’t anticipated anything like just how captivating it would end up being. So much so, that I read a whopping 106 pages within the first hour of receiving it!
We first encounter Nate and his mum hurriedly speeding off in the car in the middle of the night towards their idea of salvation in the form of an abandoned and ramshackle cottage, belonging to a dearly loved family member’s deceased friend, only having been visited previously infrequently by Nate and his family.
So many questions follow from Nate during the trip.
So many questions, that unfortunately for him, just can’t seem to be answered by Mum.
From the opening page, we start to sense that something is not quite right and on arrival at the cottage, this is when we really begin to feel for Nate as he himself becomes increasingly aware of the fact that something is not quite right either. And when they start to explore their supposed place of solace, that too is not quite as homely as they had imagined it would be.
Desperately seeking provisions after one night’s stay, Mum heads off in search of a place to buy food however her return never materialises leaving Nate all alone to swallow in his new surroundings. Doubt, despair and darkness creep in.
Anxiously fending for himself whilst fighting his fears of the shadows, Nate slowly whiles away the time by reading his well-thumbed book, hoping his magic ball will give him all the answers he so desperately needs and trying his best to avoid the only thing that resembles any indication of life in the place: a scrawny chicken.
But as time ticks away, and trepidation ensues and the hours turn in to days, Nate soon becomes distracted by the reappearance of an imaginary friend (Sam) and also entangled in an unsolved treasure hunt led by a girl (Kitty) and her cryptic riddles, who doesn’t really seem to belong in the real world either. Sam and Kitty soon develop in to Nate’s companions and confidants – acting as Nate’s closest humanly equivalents to the lights from his light jar – who try to guide, console and feed him through the remaining nights. Whether they’re just being nice, playing devil’s advocate with Nate’s conscience or they are just as lonely as Nate himself remains to be found out…
The story’s many layers continue to unravel themselves to allude to and reveal elements of the troubling home life and the manipulative, coercive and damaging behaviour of his mum’s emotionally-abusive new partner together with the lingering control he progressively possesses over Nate, his mother, his social life and even the fixtures and fittings of his own house.
Yet as you read on, there’s this innate sense of unburdening hope; optimism; faith; belief; warmth; courage; strength and character that shines through to the very end and that is what will stay with me from reading this story. That even after adversity, if you’ve got something to hold on to and can grasp even a glimpse of positivity then that can sometimes feel like the most powerful feeling in the world as Helen Keller once said “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart”.
Like the lights in the light jar offer Nate some comfort, attachment, reassurance and relief from the situations he finds himself in, The Light Jar could potentially highlight and raise awareness of personal, social and emotional (PSHE) issues in an appropriate classroom context leading to powerful discussions; promoting deep questioning and high levels of inference. However, whenever approaching emotive topics within the classroom, caution is to be evidently advised and sensitivity considered. So whilst I highly recommend this book for its thought-provoking and empathetic qualities, teachers contemplating using it should – as they should with all books they choose to use – ensure that they pre-read it to decide on its suitability for their class of children.
Lisa not only does it once again after the richly deserved success of The Goldfish Boy – leaving devoted fans of The Goldfish Boy feeling only ever so slightly disappointed if it means they will have to replace that as their favourite read with this (as I now have to do!). Once more, she achieves it so well in such an understated manner handling yet another intangible and complex issue in such a way that is both highly accessible and as relatable as it can be to readers, which to me is one of the highest forms of writing.