Saturday, August 31, 2019

Soon the Light Will Be Perfect by Dave Patterson

I really wish the blurb on the back didn't compare this book to Brynn Greenwood because I almost didn't pick up SOON THE LIGHT WILL BE PERFECT because of that comparison, because of how much I disliked ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS. So if you saw that comparison and hesitated, fear not: the only thing this has in common with that book is bad things happening to young people and poverty.

There are a lot of books coming out dealing with young adult characters living in poverty-- and not the romanticized poverty you encounter in so many young adult books, where characters agonize about rent but still manage to afford bottle service at the night club on Friday nights. No, these characters are truly poor, and it makes me sad that we live in a tanked economy where that's a reality that so many individuals-- young and old-- can relate to.

The narrator of this book is a preteen boy who lives with his older brother, his factory worker father, and his mother, who is ill with cancer, on the verge of poverty in rural New England. They are extremely Catholic, working class, and filled with a stubborn pride that prevents them from sharing their dirty laundry and asking for help. I remember reading somewhere that part of the reason social programs don't work in the U.S. is because low-income Americans see themselves not as poor, but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." Actually, I think that's a butchered quote from John Steinbeck, and there is something vaguely Steinbeckian about this family's struggles and strife.

We follow the narrator through an incident with way too many cats (it's very funny, and there's no animal deaths-- thank goodness), protests outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, to a bizarre fetish for stolen bras, to his desperate need to connect to his brother and his frantic worry for his ailing mother, to his first sexual awakening and crush on a local girl who is poorer than his family, and an ending that manages to be both tragic and bittersweet. I wasn't expecting much with this book but that ended up being the saving grace, as this worked as a character portrait of truly flawed individuals attempting to make their way through life, much like WHITE OLEANDER or THE GOLDFINCH.

I was just talking about my mixed feelings about child/preteen narrators in adult fiction. I think it's an awkward topic that needs to be handled with care, or it can come across as either too disturbing or too precious (ROOM, ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, and CLOVER BLUE fall under this category). But this book, and WHITE OLEANDER, are both examples of how you can take a young narrator and successfully utilize that voice in a book for adults that manages to be authentic while still tackling issues that might be too complex or mature for a younger audience. If you liked WHITE OLEANDER, or enjoy flawed and tragic character studies, this is a great book for you.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!

4 out of 5 stars

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