*This review will contain spoilers!*
First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Orchard Books for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
"What kind of person doesn't come back?"
"I don't know. What kind of person leaves in the first place?"'This Raging Light' starts two weeks after Lucille and Wren's mother walks out on them. She claimed she was going for a vacation to find herself and would be back in a fortnight, but on that fourteenth night Lucille knows that they're on their own now. Her dad had a mental breakdown a couple of months earlier, and his refusal to meet with their mother pushed her over the end - it's now Lucille and Wren against the world.
Lucille knows she's need to be careful regarding who finds out about their situation. Wren's only nine, and she's seventeen: until her eighteenth birthday there's a very real risk of social services coming along and taking Wren away from her. Lucille does all she can to keep her family together: she gets a job and enlists her best friend, Eden, and Eden's twin, Digby, to help her look after Wren.
The problem? Lucille has been in love with Digby for years, and spending so much time with him sends her emotions into overdrive. Digby has been with his girlfriend, Elaine, for as long as anyone can remember, so Lucille knows nothing can happen between them, but it doesn't stop her hoping. Eden doesn't want anything to happen between them, because she knows Digby will end up getting hurt: she cuts Lucille out of her life, and when they finally meet up to discuss the tension between them, tragic events occur and Eden ends up fighting for her life.
I'm very conflicted over how I felt about this novel. I really loved Lucille's character for being unafraid to fight for her family and for not letting people push her around - she would do anything for Wren, and she proves that time and time again. I also love Eden's character, who's an unapologetic feminist and strives for her goals even when she's told they're unattainable.
It's just Digby that causes me problems. Everyone says what a good guy he is, but if he's so nice and caring, why is he cheating on his long-term girlfriend who he's been discussing marriage with? If someone's being a shitty character I like it if the other characters can accept it: there's just too much denial in this novel.
The relationship between Lucille and Digby isn't even that convincing, either. She's liked him for years, basically obsessing with him, but we don't see any of the early development of her feelings because they occur before the book starts: it means that even if it isn't insta-love, it's extremely cringey (especially when she thinks "if he ever kissed me or something, I would die of implosion". Shudder.
It wasn't too surprising when Lucille and Digby ended up together - she needed to have something happy in her life! - but I was impressed that the novel ended with both of her parents still absent. Her father had been in touch but hadn't returned to the family home, while her mother was still completely AWOL. Whereas I'd been anticipating the neat, easy resolution wrapping up all the loose ends, it felt a lot more realistic without the convenient happily ever after.
My only real complaint is that I don't really understand what the subplot of Eden's accident actually had to contribute to the plot. It was very rushed: Eden and Lucille fix their friendship, but Eden slips on black ice, hitting her head and sliding into the rushing river beneath them. Lucille jumps in and saves her, and Eden remains in a coma until the conclusion of the book, which ends with her reopening her eyes.
Yes, Eden's accident seemed to make Lucille think twice about what she was doing with Digby, but that was happening anyway because Eden had warned her to back off from him. It made her plan a neater future for her and Wren, but she'd kind of been doing that anyway. I guess Digby might not have broken things off with Elaine if Lucille hadn't saved his sister's life, but that just proves how shallow he is and makes me think maybe she would have been better off if he had stayed in the relationship. If you've read 'This Raging Light' and can see any metaphorical significance, or any serious plot developments, that hinge upon Eden's accident, please let me know! It's really bugging me, but because I was reading the book quickly I don't know if I just missed something or if it didn't register.
I definitely could have enjoyed this novel more without the relationship element, because the descriptions of Wren and Lucille's struggles on their own are very emotional. It's impossible not to empathise with them, and when you consider how many children are out there struggling by themselves... It really made me feel grateful for what I have.
If you're looking to read an emotional contemporary, I'd suggest this one: just avoid it if you're offended by cheating, or if you like neat endings!