Saturday, October 31, 2020

MMGM and #IMWAYR (11/2/2020): First Light by Rebecca Stead (plus giveaway winners!)

Before we get started, the winners of my giveaway of The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen have been selected! They are...

 Terry,    Cheriee,    and    Natalie!

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks so much to everyone who entered! I truly wish I could have given a copy of The Magic Fish to everyone, but since I cannot do so, I can only implore you to go out and buy a copy of this marvelous book!

Now that that's done, for MMGM and #IMWAYR, I am recommending First Light by Rebecca Stead.

The current cover.

          First Light is the debut novel of beloved and crazy-talented MG author Rebecca Stead, who also wrote When You Reach Me, Liar & Spy, Goodbye Stranger, Bob (with Wendy Mass), and The List of Things That Will Not Change. Stead is, no question, my favorite author in existence, yet I had never read her very first novel—until now. I decided to read First Light after rereading Goodbye Stranger for probably the seventh time and not wanting it to end; coincidentally, fellow #IMWAYR blogger Aaron Cleaveley was also reading it recently as well! First Light is written in third-person from the perspectives of Peter and Thea. Peter often feels a bit distanced from his parents, both of whom are hard-working scientists, so he is excited when his family decides to take a trip together to Greenland so his father can continue studying glaciers. He's also harboring a bit of a secret: he's been getting strange headaches and vision sensations for some time now. To Thea, glaciers are no mystery: she lives inside one, along with many other people that form the hidden society of Gracehope. Thea lives with her aunt Lana and works in Gracehope's dog-breeding grounds (every citizen of Gracehope receives a dog companion known as a Chikchu). Thea is struggling, however, to convince Gracehope's government (run by her grandmother, Rowen) to explore the surface once again, just as her late mother Mai tried to do. Peter and Thea don't know it, but their worlds are about to collide in remarkable ways, changing everything they thought they knew.

The original cover—
the red ring is
important.
          One of the striking things about First Light is how it has something to appeal to readers of every genre. Readers of fantasy novels will love Gracehope and how Stead has attended to every minute detail. The layout, with the underground lake and the streets of ice that skaters can ride on; the history of how and why people would willingly seclude themselves away in the ice; the political system; the rations; the inventions; every detail has been thought out and made fascinating. Fans of science-fiction books will appreciate reading Peter's plotline and learning about the mechanics of studying glaciers in countries as remote and unpopulated as Greenland—we see the tents, and the special tools, and some of the details about glaciers as well. Furthermore, practically every detail in this story is grounded in science: global warming plays a small role, and mitochondrial DNA plays a surprisingly large and well-thought-out role! Gracehope's special lanterns use oxygen in the same way that fireflies do to produce light. If you like adventure or survival novels, you'll appreciate the action scenes scattered throughout the book and the ingenious tactics Peter and Thea have to use to stay alive (did I mention this book is proof that Rebecca Stead is smarter than all of us?). Even if you love dogs, you'll love First Light, as dogs are central both to Peter's family's expedition and to Gracehope's society, and there's quite a few of them (Sasha, Peg, Gru, Norma, Cassie, etc.). There truly is something for everyone in First Light.

          "But wait," you're wondering. "What about if I like realistic books? You know, like some of Rebecca Stead's other books?" Ah, yes. If you're asking that question, you're quite a bit like me, in fact—I read far more realistic fiction than anything else. And if you're a fan of realistic fiction—you'll have mixed feelings. (Mic drop.) You see, I've read Rebecca Stead's books far more times than is healthy, and I've noticed a bit of a pattern. Stead has a knack for understanding the way in which kids actually think, and one of her techniques that is central to making this clear is embedding details about characters' lives and personalities without drawing attention to them—after all, middle schoolers usually (emphasis on usually) aren't as self-aware as authors would like us to think they are. Because of this writing strategy, Stead's protagonists usually don't have loud, obvious personalities—their personalities are more subtle, waiting under the surface to be found and understood if you choose to look for them. In most of Stead's books, I would say this works exceedingly well—even in Goodbye Stranger, which is mostly written in third person, the characters' personalities are apparent. However, First Light is Stead's debut novel, and unfortunately, it seems that she had not yet worked out the kinks in this technique of hers. I found Peter's personality in particular to be thin for about two-thirds of the book; it was really only in the last third that I started to see that Peter is a bit funny, a bit sensitive, and very much a kid. Thea's personality—adventurous if impulsive, and a bit wiser than her age would suggest—was more apparent, which I believe made me favor Thea's plotline for a while during the book. It is important to note that the end of First Light really pulls out the stops, emotion-wise. Peter becomes developed and likable, the other characters in the story pull together to develop themes of love, loss, and betrayal, and some revelations add an emotional gut-punch to the story—I found myself entranced by the end of First Light in a way that I was not in the beginning. The emotions are well worth the wait, but with Rebecca Stead, I was surprised that there was a wait at all.

          All in all, First Light is not what you'd expect from Rebecca Stead. It's not realistic fiction, and it's honestly not a story that sticks with you—I won't be rereading it the seven or so times I've reread Goodbye Stranger, for example. But, if you're a fan of fantasy or science-fiction books, First Light may be worth your time. It's somewhat slow to get started, but the payoff, in emotions, fantastic details, action, and societal effects, is well worth it. I'll leave it up to you to decide to read First Light, but I will end this review on a happy note: I've now read every single one of Rebecca Stead's books! I have officially become a steadfast fan. (Ha!)

26 comments:

  1. Oh, I loved this book! And believe it not, I read it when it first came out. So we didn't know at that point that she would go on to write WHEN YOU REACH ME (one of my all-time favorite novels) or all the others. And the only one of her novels I've yet to read is THE LIST OF THINGS THAT WILL NOT CHANGE.

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    1. You have to read The List of Things That Will Not Change—it's absolutely stunning! You know, I'm always sad that I can't ever read When You Reach Me or Goodbye Stranger for the first time ever again—I will always remember what happens next. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I read this book years ago when it first came out. Reading your synopsis brought it all back. It was a good story and I really enjoyed it (though I had forgotten some of the details along the way). Glad you read it and enjoyed it! :)
    ~Jess

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed First Light! Thanks so much for stopping by—I really appreciate it!

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  3. I missed this Rebecca Stead book. I think I've read everything else she's written though. I might need to look for it. I've enjoyed all of her other books.

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    1. When You Reach Me was actually the very first book I ever reviewed, so Stead holds a special status on this blog! Thank you so much for stopping by!

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  4. I have read most of Stead's books but not this one. It's a void I've been trying to close since she is one of my favorite story writers. If only there were 60 days in a month! Thanks for reminding me of her debut on today's edition of MMGM. I have it reserved at the library now.

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    1. I love Rebecca Stead's books as well! I'm glad you'll have a chance to read First Light! And yes, I definitely need more days to read! Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. I haven't read this one, either & enjoyed what you wrote about Stead's journey in books. Thanks!

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    1. Of course! I hope you get a chance to try First Light, and thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Great review of my favorite Rebecca Stead book. I like it better than WHEN YOU REACH ME, and I didn't realize it was her debut. Not a fantasy or Sci-fi lover usually, but Stead created a realistic world within her novel. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. She definitely has a knack for worldbuilding—I'd be curious to see another fantasy book by Stead! I love how it reads somewhat like realistic fiction and doesn't get bogged down in all of the fantasy/sci-fi elements. Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I really like Rebecca Stead and love fantasy. I will try this one out. And so excited that I won The Magic Fish. It's arrived and I'm looking forward to reading it.

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    1. I hope you enjoy First Light! Also, I'm so glad you got The Magic Fish—I hope you love it as much as I did! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  8. It hasn't arrived yet, but I am thankful for the book!
    I enjoyed First Light, but it was When You Reach Me that turned me into a hardcore Rebecca Stead fan. I have read everything she has written.

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    1. When You Reach Me was the first book I ever reviewed, and I think it ties with Goodbye Stranger for my favorite book (although I could really make a whole list of favorite books, honestly). Thanks for stopping by (and I hope you enjoy The Magic Fish once it arrives)!

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  9. I loved Stead's The List of Things That Will Not Change. Good to know your thoughts about this one. I'm more of a realistic fiction than fantasy/science fiction fan. When I read fantasy/science fiction it's so I can recommend those books to readers who enjoy those genres.

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    1. I definitely lean toward realistic fiction as well, but I could no longer resist the pull of an unread Rebecca Stead book! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  10. I have read and enjoyed Stead's books. But, from your description of this novel, sounds like it is off the chart. Your review was enthusiastic and thrilling. Look forward to reading it! Congrats to the winners!

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    1. I hope you enjoy First Light! Thanks so much for stopping by (and I'm glad you enjoyed my review)!

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  11. Congrats to Terry, Cheriee, and Natalie! And while I haven't read Stead's First Light, I was glad to see what you shared about re-reading Goodbye Stranger. I own a copy of GS and haven't yet started it. So this is REAL incentive!! Thanks for sharing and I hope you have a wonderful reading week!

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    1. Oh my gosh, you MUST read Goodbye Stranger ASAP! I love Goodbye Stranger so much that I reviewed it, decided my review wasn't good enough to be what such an incredible book deserved, and reviewed it a second time (something I have only done twice ever). I have persuaded one of my parents to try Goodbye Stranger once they finish War and Peace—a hilariously long wait for me, but I'm looking forward to getting to talk about it with them! (Can you tell that I am a bit of a Goodbye Stranger superfan?) Thanks so much for stopping by, and have a wonderful reading week as well!

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    2. Wow. That's quite the promotion! So yeah, I'll definitely be bumping this one up on my list. I also took a moment to check out the literary awards listed on Goodreads. Very impressive!

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  13. I haven't read Goodbye Stranger or First Light, but I just ordered copies of both. I love everything I've read by Stead, and I want to read these as well. Thanks for your thoughtful review.

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  14. Interesting that they are reissuing this. Stead isn't very popular at my school, so I will probably pass.

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