Books

Each Night Was Illuminated

Cassie Blake, the girl at the heart of Jodi Lynn Anderson’s powerful and timely Each Night Was Illuminated, was raised as a believer in the religious town of Green Valley. She even wanted to grow up to become a nun. But when Cassie was 11 years old, everything changed. 

First, Cassie’s mother abandoned her family. Then, one lovely summer day, Cassie hiked up Cub Mountain with Elias Jones, a gregarious Australian boy visiting his American relatives for the summer. What they saw from the top of the mountain left their lives forever altered: The bridge that spanned Green Valley’s reservoir collapsed, sending a train plummeting into the water. Elias saw the spirits of the dead rising up into the sky, but Cassie lost her belief in God. “How could we have seen the same thing and come away with something so different?” she wonders. “Mine being the loss of magic, his being the beginning of it.”

Afraid to admit that she has lost her faith, Cassie becomes circumspect and cautious. For years, she ignores the letters that Elias sends her from Australia—and then he returns during her senior year of high school. Handsomer than ever, he wants to reconnect and to ask Cassie two questions: Did she see the ghosts? And will she help him find them?

Cassie has been experiencing insomnia (“I had a habit at night of thinking of things going wrong in the world: floods, hurricanes, tornados, big oil, wind power, infighting among my favorite reality TV stars.”), so she reasons that late-night ghost hunting shouldn’t disrupt her life too much. Falling for Elias certainly does, though, since love entails risk and vulnerability, which Cassie avoids at all costs. They grow closer nonetheless, finding ports in a storm in each other as climate-change disasters dominate the news and a bombastic preacher spreads poisonous rhetoric through their town. But can Cassie and Elias’ connection remain strong in the face of crises both personal and global?

Anderson (Midnight at the Electric) has a gift for creating anticipation—whether sweetly romantic, supernaturally spooky or truly scary—when her characters face genuine peril. In Each Night Was Illuminated, she has crafted a thought-provoking and resonant read laced with magic, humor and love for both humanity and a planet that is struggling to endure, despite what humanity has wrought.

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