This Little Light by Lori Lansens
Contemporary | Dystopian | Young Adult
Published by The Overlook Press (Abrams)
Released 11 August 2020
Goodreads | Amazon
I kept seeing Lori Lansens’ This Little Light described as a dystopian novel, so I was excited to give it a shot. Dystopia, especially young adult dystopia, is a genre that has been done to death. Starting with The Hunger Games, there were years of YA dystopian novels being pushed by publishers, most of them not worth your time.
I would love the genre to make a comeback, however, so I’m always on the lookout for something new. This Little Light is a very light dystopia, where Christian fundamentalists have gained power and abortion has become illegal.
Two teenage girls, Rory and Fee, are forced to flee after an explosion at the American Virtue Ball they’re attending. The novel is told from Rory’s perspective, as she live-blogs the entire situation.
The first thing I want to mention is that events like the American Virtue Ball actually happen. The point of these “Purity balls” is to promote abstinence and to promise your fathers and god that you’ll abstain from sex until marriage. Just like in This Little Light, fathers present their daughters with some kind of gift (ring, necklace, etc.) in exchange for their daughters promising a vow of chastity to their fathers. I’m not going to get really deep into this, except to say that it creeps me out, women are not possessions of men, and that abstinence doesn’t work.
The blog format was interesting. On the one hand, it propels the narrative forward and portrays a sense of panic to the reader. At the same time, however, I found it irritating. Rory would write things like:
Just heard something, and it wasn’t the wind. There’s a truck on the road, and it’s coming this way.”
I find it to be unrealistic that someone would type that instead of just jumping up to investigate, especially when they’re literally being hunted by bounty hunters. I understand why Lori Lansens went with this format because, again, it does add a sense of urgency to the story, but it would have worked just as well as a more typical first-person narrative.
The biggest issue I had with this novel is that the reaction to the book’s inciting event is excessive and it requires a suspension of disbelief. There’s a small explosion at the American Virtue Ball (where no one is killed) and the person running the show (whose name is Jagger Jonze, by the way) puts up a million-dollar bounty to track Rory and Fee down. There’s no real evidence that they’re responsible for the explosion, and I found it hard to believe that the entire nation would rally behind this and start tracking down two teenage girls. For this level of reaction, something much bigger and more important should have occurred.
I don’t know if this is because I’m getting old, but I struggled with Rory’s vernacular. The author is 58 years old but is writing from the perspective of a 16-year-old. Lansens uses a particular sentence structure over and over again that really annoyed me:
“We live in Calabass, California, which is famous because Kardashians.”
Maybe young people today do talk like that, but it bothers the crap out of me. Obviously, this is a personal preference, so it might not bother you at all, but “a because b” is not proper English.
All of the characters in This Little Light are incredibly rich and privileged, which usually turns me off of a book. So I really appreciated that Lori Lansens wrote Rory to be hyper-aware of her privilege and how lucky she is compared to the majority of the world. It made her character a little easier to stomach.
This isn’t a book that I can recommend. Much better options would be Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, both novels that are highly deserving of your attention. I appreciate what Lori Lansens was attempting to with This Little Light, but it ultimately fell flat.