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Magical Realism, Middle Grade Readers

THE LIGHT JAR by Lisa Thompson

When we first meet Nate and his mom at the beginning of The Light Jar they are in a car in the middle of the night running away. We quickly realize they are running from Gary, his mother’s live-in boyfriend who is away on a business trip. They arrive at a rundown cottage his mother says once belonged to an old friend of the family. Nate is less than thrilled to be in this strange and creepy, unfamiliar place. As the two of them begin tidying they begin laughing together and Nate realizes it’s been an extraordinarily long time (i.e. before Gary) since they have enjoyed simple moments like that. When Nate’s mom leaves to get some food and doesn’t return, Nate must figure out how to survive alone, while simultaneously fearing his mother has deserted him to return to Gary.

The parts of Nate’s story in which he has flashbacks to how his and his mother’s lives changed (not for the better) after Gary moved in are told exceedingly well. The reader gets a very real picture of what it is like to live in a state of constant terror in an emotionally abusive household. Nate’s imaginary friend, Sam, reappears (after having been absent for quite a while) and helps Nate to make connections between his memories of terrifying moments, his and his mother’s escape, his current situation and strategies for how to proceed. I found the addition of Sam as a relatable tool for Nate to use in facing his own fears and assessing his situation perfectly reasonable as both a literary device and a character.

There is an additional plotline involving another character and a treasure hunt (to give more details would be a spoiler) which does NOT seem effective or believable in the context of Nate’s story. It adds nothing to the storyline or Nate’s character arc. It feels intrusive and becomes annoying every time it shoulders into Nate’s story.

I probably won’t recommend¬†The Light Jar to other readers. It’s a shame because Nate’s story is told with compassion, empathy and remarkable sensitivity. It’s unfortunate that a badly contrived additional plot and character diminish what could have been a truly stunning story of hope and resilience.

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