The sea gives and the sea takes. The sea took Bonnie's mother away from her, to a new life on a distant shore. And now it has brought her three things: A boat, a boy, and a chance to be free.
Reviewed by Rachel Elvidge
The House of Light is a powerful novel, glittering with evocative language and infused with a strong sense of place.
Bonnie is growing up on the coastline of an embattled country. From her beach, she can see islands a little way out to sea, possibly the Farne Islands, although the setting is kept deliberately vague. Although unspecific, the locale is vividly described, and you can smell the seaweed as Bonnie combs the tideline. Life is hard for Bonnie and her Granda, even before she finds wanderer Ish and his little boat washed up by the tide. Her decision to help him, despite the danger, sets Bonnie on a path that leads her to unexpected places.
The House of Light would make an engrossing class read for upper junior years and beyond. As well as being moving and involving story, there is so much potential here for more in-depth reading and comprehension work.
This wonderful story brings a delicate touch to so many important issues facing us today: refugee experience, ecological problems and sustainability are all threaded through Bonnie and Ish’s story, along with loss, abandonment and bereavement. There is so much to discuss. Bonnie forages from the beach, and what she chooses is illuminating. Leather shoes are useful and valuable, even when not a pair, but discarded plastic is useless to her. What can the children infer from Ish’s drawings, as he is unable to speak of his life before Bonnie meets him? The ambiguous ending also asks to be explored through discussion or writing.
The House of Light is highly recommended, although caution is needed as this is a book of loss, hardship and difficult choices. Despite these dark themes, the resounding message is one of hope and the belief that individuals can make positive changes and shine their light in a challenging world.