The Light We Lost, by Jill Santopolo

Reese Witherspoon has a way to pick great and original books, stories that transport you elsewhere, and I’ve hardly ever been disappointed by her selection. I certainly wasn’t with this one.

The story:

He was the first person to inspire her, to move her, to truly understand her. Was he meant to be the last?

Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

From a reader’s point of view:

If you believe in love at first sight, this story is for you. Yet I wouldn’t reduce this book to a Romance (however respectful I am to Romance authors). In the vein of Colleen Hoover’s books, it’s Contemporary Fiction, sometimes Women’s Fiction, and focuses on priorities, choices, and what-ifs considerably more than the characters’ love itself—loves, if I were accurate.

“Sometimes we make decisions that seemed right at the time, but later, looking back, were clearly a mistake. Some decisions are right even in hindsight.”

This story is different from anything I’ve read before, because even when love is passionate and unique and all-consuming, it’s far from perfect and even though it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of relationship, life sucks and gets in your way, and sometimes things don’t work out as planned. From the very beginning, Lucy’s inner voice sounds like a confession and immediately I was concerned about where it was heading. But this isn’t Young Adult Fiction, so I knew it’s always HEA (happily ever after) or ATTHS (and then they had sex)—spoiler alter: they do. Yes, it involves a triangle, but there’s a lot of respect and self-abnegation, amazingly realistic although I must have wondered once or twice if a love that strong could exist in non-fiction. Overall, it’s an incredible treatise on love.

“It’s a type of fire. […] Some relationships feel like a wildfire—they’re powerful and compelling and majestic and dangerous and have the capability to burn you before you even realize you’ve been consumed. And […] some relationships feel like a hearth fire—they’re solid and stable and cozy and nourishing.”

From a writer’s point of view:

The Light We Lost is a great example of character-driven writing, and it’s a novel with an unusual format. With each chapter set as a short vignette, it’s told from the perspective of Lucy as she directly addresses to Gabe, and another interesting point—rather rare, in my opinion—it has a lot of foreshadowing.

For the record, the first chapter of 24 Hours of the Phoenix was written this way, and ended like that:

“We’ve now reached the point where you know it all, “all” being as much as I do. I didn’t mean to start my memoirs or my diary here. I don’t really know why I talked to you about all this. I don’t really know who you are, either. Maybe you’re God or an actual ancient phoenix or my inner self or my parents or Uncle Bob. For all I know, you could also be some dying patient I just randomly met in the hall. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter who you are, actually. I mean, it felt good to talk to you, and for just a few moments it felt like I wasn’t doing this all alone. I just wish this weren’t about me, you know? That I were only a spectator, like you.”

In 3 words (or so)?

Read in record time.