Book Review: This Little Light by Lori Lansens

This Little Light – Lori Lansens (Random House Canada, 2019)

If I had begun reading This Little Light expecting a young adult book, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. The book has a very juvenile tone that became frustrating when I was hoping for a more nuanced exploration into conservative Christianity in America.

The story is narrated by Rory Miller who is writing a tell-all blog post as she is on the run from police, vigilantes, and a star evangelist preacher. A few hours before, Rory and her best friends (they call themselves The Hive) were pledging their virginity to their fathers at the American Virtue Ball. But when a bomb goes off in one of the bathrooms, Rory and her friend Felize are quickly labelled as terrorists and go on the run. Rory is telling her side of the story, all the way back to when the new girl Jinny showed up and linked their group to celebrity preacher, Jagger Jonze.

Rory and her friends are stereotypical rich California girls. They live amongst obscene wealth in a double-gated community, attending private schools and being given everything their hearts could desire. Rory is a little bit different in that her parents (recently divorced) are Jewish and Canadian and her mom works as an immigration lawyer, doing a lot of pro bono work. Since this is America in the 21st century, they’re seen as communists.

(Side note: the time frame of this book is really confusing. It’s clearly set in the future as they have technology that we don’t have like Ubercopters and abortion and birth control have been outlawed completely. Yet the Kardashians are referenced as living in the neighbourhood and Rory uses “Schwarzeneggered” to refer to the possibility that a friend’s dad might have a child with his housekeeper. At the end of the book, we learn the year is 2024 which doesn’t seem that likely. Also, there are plenty of references to real people and yet one of the characters owns several Pasta Garden restaurants. Is Olive Garden particularly litigious or something?)

Frustratingly, Rory’s storytelling relies heavily on vague references that remain secret too long. Even when talking with Felize they mention things like “what happened at orientation” or “that thing in the back of your car.” It’s the too-common and aggravating trope of That Day, where a first person narrator keeps secrets simply to advance the plot.

Even more aggravating though was Rory’s voice. As I said, if this had been marketed as a young adult novel I might have been more forgiving and accepted that perhaps I am simply not the target audience. Rory’s narrative is filled with Valley girl slang and diction and maybe it’s realistic but it’s annoying to read over and over again.

I had hoped this book would be an interesting look into the culture of conservative American Christianity (which, I would argue is almost its own religion these days, separate from the rest of the world). Unfortunately, Lansens goes for the easy plot points. Of course the celebrity preacher who promotes celibacy is sleeping with a teenage girl. (Uh, spoilers, I guess.) Of course the cute guy in a band is running backroom abortions at the library. Of course the main character and her friends are all way more enlightened than their participation in the American Virtue Ball might imply and are only participating so they can buy new shoes. Every twist that the novel throws out left me unsurprised and at no point did I find myself particularly concerned about what was going to happen to Rory and Felize.

13 thoughts on “Book Review: This Little Light by Lori Lansens”

  1. This is so disappointing. I’ve had it on my shelf for awhile and I was looking forward to reading it because the premise sounded so unique, but I can see myself being aggravated by the exact same things you point out. Sigh.

    1. It is a mess. In the book’s defence, the author isn’t praising either of those things are advocating for them. She’s also not offering anything new to the conversation about western Christianity and purity culture so there’s not much point in reading this book.

  2. Hi Karissa! Your thoughts echo mine so perfectly. I had enjoyed her novel The Girls, SO MUCH, so was expecting a similar kind of character development and insight from the author. Juvenile. Trying to be edgy but missing the mark. “Twists” you saw coming a mile away. Even the fact that the girl was writing this long narrative over a very short and stressful period of time was not believable. A disappointment.

    1. Hi Carole! Nice to hear from you! I’m glad to hear The Girls was better because this was a mess! I didn’t even touch on the fact that Rory is apparently writing about events as they happen but that was ridiculous! As if she’d still be typing as someone is banging on the door or there are noises outside the window!

    2. Right? And an unconscious friend to take care of. I am open to dystopian worlds, but the logistics have to work.

      I was happy to see your review… will have to catch up on your lasted blog articles (I have been MIA for a while, eh?} . Hope you and your family are doing well during this challenging months.

    3. Yes, I agree about the logistics. I had trouble placing the timeframe of the story for a lot of it which was also disorienting.

      We are doing pretty well, thanks! Hope you are too.

  3. Ooh, a narrator holding back info from the reader to advance the plot is one of my biggest pet peeves. To be honest, the virtue ball doesn’t sound much better! Knowing what to expect can definitely help a reading experience but this book sounds rather difficult to love. Sorry it turned out to be so disappointing!

    1. A virtue ball sounds terrible to attend but interesting (I thought) to read about. I just wish this had been a more nuanced look at it all!

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