Book Review: The Light of the Fireflies

Title: The Light of the Fireflies
Author: Paul Pen
Publisher: AmazonCrossing
Genre(s): Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: April 1st, 2016
Pages: 338
Buy This Book: Amazon/Audible

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Book Blurb:

A haunting and hopeful tale of discovering light in even the darkest of places.

For his whole life, the boy has lived underground, in a basement with his parents, grandmother, sister, and brother. Before he was born, his family was disfigured by a fire. His sister wears a white mask to cover her burns.

He spends his hours with his cactus, reading his book on insects, or touching the one ray of sunlight that filters in through a crack in the ceiling. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before his own birth, about why they’re shut away.

A few days ago, some fireflies arrived in the basement. His grandma said, There’s no creature more amazing than one that can make its own light. That light makes the boy want to escape, to know the outside world. Problem is, all the doors are locked. And he doesn’t know how to get out.…

My Thoughts:

This is a very dark book dealing with some heavy subject matter, which won’t be to everyone’s liking. However, it is incredibly well-written and engrossing. I couldn’t put it down!

The first half of the story is very unsettling and creepy and, well, strange. The narrator is a 10-year-old boy whose name is never mentioned. In fact, none of the characters are named; they are just referred to by their relationship to the narrator or speaker (mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma) which gets pretty confusing at times, especially in dialogue since the relationship changes based on who’s speaking. In the first few chapters, we read about the day to day activities of the boy and his family, who all live underground in a basement dwelling. Although no-one will talk about it, it’s clear there was a major traumatic event last time they were outside. Everyone in the family has been badly burned and disfigured except for the boy (because he was in his mom’s belly during “the fire”, as she explains to him at one point) and his sister even has to wear a white prosthetic mask to cover her face at all times. The boy was born in this basement and has never seen the outside world. His only view of the sun is a small ray of sunlight that comes in through a crack above. No one will answer his questions about why they live underground, or why they can’t ever leave.

In the second half of the book, we find out the answers to those questions and so much more as it flashes back to reveal what happened 11 years earlier. But that’s where the book became really disturbing and even infuriating for me. All of the family members (especially the parents) do despicable things for the sake of “family”, and their justifications are weak and shallow. I can’t say any more without spoiling it (and trust me, you do not want this book spoiled; this is the kind of book where the less you know going into it, the better), but I was legitimately angered by the actions of the family. And then I was very, very disappointed by the ending.

I know, it sounds like I hated this book, and to be fair, I don’t think I’m going to be re-reading it anytime soon. However, despite the dark content and unlikeable characters, I actually really liked it. It is certainly a very unique, one-of-a-kind book—I’ve never read anything quite like it before. It was also very well-written and a smooth translation. If I didn’t know beforehand that it was translated from another language, I wouldn’t have been able to tell. I’m definitely going to be looking into more books from this author.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

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