Book Review: Jill Santopolo’s “The Light We Lost”

The Light We Lost

[Image borrowed from Jill Santopolo’s website because I returned my copy to the library today before I remembered to take a picture of it]

This book is incredible. I realize that as far as opening lines go, this isn’t exactly the most clever or witty, but it truly is the first thing that comes to mind when trying to describe The Light We Lost.  I first picked it up because of a “What Happens Next?” writing contest through Belletrist. As described by their website, “Belletrist is an online platform that celebrates great books and the people who read them.”  Formed by best friends Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss, this growing community drew me in with their Instagram posts suggesting both new and familiar books and authors to read as well as a monthly book club pick. Recently, Belletrist ran a contest allowing writers to continue the story beyond the final page of Jill Santopolo’s The Light We Lost.

(Just FYI, the winner has yet to be announced, and while I was proud of my entry and worked hard on it, I’m not expecting to win the contest. I looked at it more as an opportunity to take my writing a bit more seriously, put it out there for someone else to read, and regain that sense of accomplishment that comes with working towards a goal and meeting a deadline – something I’ve been surprisingly yearning for ever since graduating college.)


This is a difficult one to discuss without giving away major spoilers, but I’ll do what I can to encourage you to read this one without ruining all the good stuff that awaits. I don’t know if this is cheating, but honestly the Goodreads  summary pretty much nails the description so I’ll just go ahead and copy/paste that here:

Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts.

One of my favorite things about this novel is the way in which Santopolo plays with temporality. Being that the novel takes place over a period of thirteen years, there has to be some kind of nuance involved in telling the story to avoid the plot becoming “we did this, and then the next year this happened, and then this happened after that.” The narration begins with Lucy reminiscing about how her and Gabe met when they were young, but didn’t yet start dating until a few years later. She describes the looks on Gabe’s face and how at the time she wasn’t sure what a certain expression could mean, but years later after having loved the way they had, she recalls what must have been going on in his head all those years ago.

There are vague teasers throughout the book as well that suggest that something is about to come to a culmination, which makes the book so captivating, and the reason so many people have said they read it in one sitting or over the course of just one or two days. The foreshadowing is just vague enough that when these instances pop up, at least two or three predictions find their way into your head, and before you know it you’ve pulled out your phone and are marking the passages and page numbers down with your current theory. These theories are of course then edited or thrown out all together as you continue to read and more information is unveiled.

Incredible pacing of the plot aside, it’s the beauty of the writing that made me love this book so much. Santopolo somehow avoids all of the usual love and romance related cliches while managing to capture in words what a love like Lucy and Gabe’s feels like. Something as simple as the line, “For the first time since you left, I dreamed about someone else” breaks your heart with its implications; to be so in love that even in your dreams you can’t escape the idea of that other person, whether it be painful or beautiful. This moment also subtly marks a bit of a turning point for Lucy as she attempts to disentangle herself from a love that won’t let her go.

The Light We Lost presents a beautiful, passionate love caught in the middle of an impossible situation. It shows us that there are so people who will forever be a part of our lives, even if they are a world away, and how bittersweet those connections can be.

Maybe if I’m feeling extra bold I’ll post my entry for the Belletrist contest on here, but for now I’ll stop fan-girling over this novel, and track down some more of Jill Santopolo’s work. Much like Celeste Ng, after reading just one example of Jill Santopolo’s writing I can’t wait to read all that she has to offer.

As always, thanks for reading!


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