The Light Jar is the second novel from Lisa Thompson, her first being the award-winning Goldfish Boy.  This is a beautiful, sensitive and moving book, which deftly addresses the subject of emotional abuse for a younger audience by balancing its stark impact with courage, hope and strength.  It is also an intriguing mystery story, which keeps you guessing until the end.

This story opens with Nate and his mum leaving their family home in the middle of the night, finally reaching their destination in the early hours – a run-down cottage in the middle of nowhere.  Mum goes out to buy food shortly after, but as time passes by she doesn’t return, leaving Nate all alone.  Nate has to dig deep to find the courage to fend for himself; he also has to convince a girl he meets, who lives in the only neighbouring property, that he has not been abandoned.  She persuades him to join in with her treasure hunt, but things are not always as they seem…

The story has been crafted with skill and dexterity; it has a simplicity and clarity to it, which belies its many layers. Before reading it, I heard woman say that she found it an uncomfortable read.  I can understand where she was coming from, albeit I must make it clear that is no reflection on how the story has been written.  I personally found the emotional abuse element, which acts as a backdrop to the story and unfolds throughout the book, desperately sad – particularly the interplay between Nate’s Mum and Grandmother – and I really had to stop myself from skipping to the end to find out whether or not everything turns out ok.  This is a good example, though, of how adults and children can read a story in an entirely different way or place emphasis on different elements of the storyline, as I’ve talked to a number of children who have read the book and they focussed more on the mystery, the friendship and the discovery of inner strength.  So I think it’s fair to say that it is a book that will touch different people, both in terms of age and/or life experience, in different ways.

I am supremely glad that I read this book and I think Lisa Thompson deserves huge respect for tackling such a difficult subject in a way that generates a sense of positivity by the end of the story.  I’m a firm believer that sensitive topics should not be hidden away from or brushed under the carpet for younger readers, and there will no doubt be some children who read this and see themselves and their families reflected in the pages, which I think is extremely important in children’s literature today.  The publisher has aimed this book at the 11 – 14 age bracket*, but most book review sites place it at age 9 upwards; the story length is 293 pages.  I don’t think I’ve ever been moved so much by a children’s story.  If you decide to only add one book to your children’s collection this year, make sure that it’s this one.

* I include publisher’s age ranges as a guide only.

Additional book information:

The Light Jar
Author: Lisa Thompson
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 9781407171289

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