Book Review: A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

 ‘Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation when you’re dead.

 In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them. For the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen, terrified, but intrigued, is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and the young people they come to possess.’

I kept seeing this novel described as ‘compelling’, and that’s exactly what it is. Compelling. With so many supernatural romances filling the shelves lately, it’s hard to find one that stands out from the crowd and actually delivers a unique story. A Certain Slant of Light does just that. It’s far more sophisticated and more adult in terms of depth and plot line compared to many of the other paranormal books around.

Firstly, isn’t that just a divine title? It sends a shiver down my spine, that, combined with the frankly stunning cover, gave me a good idea that I was about to read something a little bit special.

What makes this story especially interesting is that it isn’t actually about two teenagers falling in love at all. Helen is 27, while James is 29. Their emotions and passions are raw, real. Their yearning to be together is heightened by the fact that they aren’t adolescents falling head over heels with the first attractive person who comes their way; their attraction stems from a shared experience – of finding someone who understands you, who feels as you do, who misses human touch. The joy of having someone to talk to after 130 years of being utterly alone. They are adults, with adult feelings, out of their own time but confined to young bodies, which has serious repercussions as the story unfolds.

Helen is a very vulnerable character. At times she appears far younger than 27. As we learn more of her struggles in her previous life, in the manner of her death and her overwhelmingly lonely, terrifying, existence since, you begin to understand why she is so sad and guarded. Her feelings of possessiveness and love for her hosts is so complex. James brings her to life. We can understand completely why she is scared but drawn to him. Helen clings to James and comes to depend greatly on him, but she has an inner strength about her as well, which shines through as she determines against the odds to fight for Jenny’s life as well as her own, even at her lowest point.

Though we never really meet them, I grew as fond  and invested in the stories of Billy and Jenny (especially Jenny) as Helen and James. One particular scene which really stood out to me in took place between these two secondary characters near the very end, where they meet for the first time, but have already become an anchor in one another’s lives.

This book doesn’t shy away from difficult or controversial questions. Is what Helen and James doing wrong? Do they make the right choices? Are they being overwhelmingly selfish? The consequences for several characters as a result of Helen and James’ actions are serious. Ultimately, I was left with the feeling that Helen and James did help Jenny and Billy, more than they’ll ever know, but at a cost.

A Certain Slant of Light has an underlying sadness throughout that is quite touching and profound. Helen and James are two people who desperately want the chance to be together, but discover they may have to sacrifice their own happiness in order to help two young people find the fight within themselves to live.

It is very nearly a perfect story. I felt at times it needed a little more editing, and a little longer spent on it. Some of the overly descriptive language could have been cut down (the beginning is a little difficult to grasp) and I felt the story was incomplete (whether this is intentional or not I don’t know). I wanted to read more about James and Helen past lives; a malevolent spirit is mentioned but never resolved and the ending was too abrupt and not in keeping with the atmosphere Whitcomb had maintained throughout the rest of the book.

Definitely well worth a read but not one for younger readers as it does contain strong adult themes.

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

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