I have a strange fascination when it comes to fiction about school shootings. The idea of it happening is so terrifying to me, that I feel drawn to reading or watching things about it. I’m not sure if this will prepare me in a way or if it is a safe way of dealing with terrifying things, but it is how I came across The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs. I then read this book in two sittings and afterwards all I wanted was to tell everyone about it.
The Light Fantastic is a little experimental when it comes to YA fiction. It’s written from seven different perspectives, it doesn’t have a very well-defined plot and it’s written in a poetic style. This can be a lot in one book, especially in YA where a lot of books are loved because they’re easy reads and you blow through them. But even though This Light Fantastic is experimental in all these ways, it reads like a charm. Sara Combs writing really drew me in and I kept turning page after page, wanting to know what was going to happen to all seven narrators. It also reminded me a lot of David Levithan’s novels. This Light Fantastic has a very similar kindness to it that just shines out from all the characters in an almost tangible way.
The book is quite heavy in its subject matter. April seems to be our mainest main character and we follow her around at school on senior ditch day. She has a strange ability called hyperthymesia, which means she can remember every detail of almost every day of her life. She’s also obsessed with the idea of dying because of a violence, like school shootings or cult deaths and it’s also her birthday. Unfortunately this day has also been chosen by another narrator called The Mastermind to be the day where he and his other Assassins decide to shoot up their own schools. The story unfolds through all the different narrators who are spread out over the United States, but are all connected to April in some way or another.
These different perspectives can be a little difficult. It’s hard to write from the point of view of seven people and make sure that your reader is involved in every single one of them, but I have to say that there wasn’t one p.o.v. in there that I really didn’t like. At first I didn’t like Gavin adding hashtags to words in his narrative, but then he got stuck in the lockdown closet with his teacher and the entire psychics class and he turned into my favorite of them all and had me crying my eyes out with all the lovely, kind things he did and said. I found myself going through this with almost all the narratives, feeling with them, hating them when they did something stupid and ultimately caring for them as flawed human beings.
Another very recent YA hit about a school shooting was This is How it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. I haven’t read that book yet, but it sounds similar enough that you might not feel the need to pick up The Light Fantastic if you’re already read that one. If that’s your worry however, I still want to urge you to read The Light Fantastic anyway. It’s definitely not a ‘typical’ school shooting narrative, but instead it’s a very psychological novel that doesn’t ask how people could do such a terrible thing, but if people can come back from hardship and pain and trauma. It looks at the good in the world instead of the bad and to me showed that people can do bad things, but that it doesn’t necessarily make them bad people.
Review Copy attained through Netgalley with special thanks to the publisher Candlewick Press.