Author: Jamie McGuire
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Romance
Publication Date: May 29, 2018
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨ (4.5 stars)
The first time Elliott Youngblood spots Catherine Calhoun, he’s just a boy with a camera, and he’s never seen a sadder and more beautiful sight. Both Elliott and Catherine feel like outcasts, yet they find an easy friendship with each other. But when Catherine needs him most, Elliott is forced to leave town.
Elliott finally returns, but he and Catherine are now different people. He’s a star high school athlete, and she spends all her free time working at her mother’s mysterious bed-and-breakfast. Catherine hasn’t forgiven Elliott for abandoning her, but he’s determined to win back her friendship…and her heart.
Just when Catherine is ready to fully trust Elliott, he becomes the prime suspect in a local tragedy. Despite the town’s growing suspicions, Catherine clings to her love for Elliott. But a devastating secret that Catherine has buried could destroy whatever chance of happiness they have left.
You can’t get someone out of quicksand if you’re stuck in it, too.
I’m notoriously picky when it comes to contemporary YA novels and even pickier when contemporary blurs the line with romance. Maybe it’s that I overdosed on too many cliched stories of young love when I was in high school, or maybe my attention span has shortened to the point where the only declarations of love I want to see are in pauses for breath on a battlefield. Whatever the reason, I tend to be skeptical of tales that revolve around the girl next door and small town flames, no matter how brightly they burn. It follows that a story like All the Little Lights should have had me dubious from the start. Yet, there was something so evocative about the description alone of Jamie McGuire’s most recent novel that I couldn’t help but want to take a chance on it … and oh, I’m so glad I did.
It’s clear from the start that All the Little Lights is Catherine Calhoun and Elliott Youngblood’s love story, but it’s more than just the unfolding of their relationship; it’s a coming of age tale. They’re both such strong characters with complex personalities that jump right out of the pages and make it impossible to not grow attached. I loved getting to know Catherine’s inner resilience and Elliott’s unwavering loyalty, through their own eyes and in how they see one another. I was impressed that McGuire had me rooting for their relationship from the start, and my faith in them only deepened as the story progressed.
McGuire has such a way with words. Everything about her writing tugged at my heartstrings the whole way through. All the Little Lights perfectly captures the claustrophobic nature of a small town and the sticky-sweet nostalgia of the summers of youth. The prevalent theme of found family brings together many of the characters in the novel, and it’s a powerful reminder that some ties are deeper than blood. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the focus on Elliott’s native heritage as well as the bigotry he faces.
There’s definitely an element of mystery and intrigue to this novel, which is always another plus for me. Catherine’s home life, the truth of which she strives so hard to keep secret from the outside world, grows m to keep under wraps, especially as Elliott begins to play a larger role in her life. Little contradictions seemed to crop up throughout the novel, which somewhat confused and irked me at the time, but the ending brought everything into focus, and I’ve got to applaud McGuire for pulling it off. My only lasting complaint is Tess’s character, who seemed destined for becoming more of a plot point than she did, and I’m still scratching my head at her purpose.
Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed All the Little Lights despite any initial reservations I might have had over what appeared to be “just another teenage love story.” Catherine and Elliott’s tale is anything but cookie cutter—it’s evocative and gorgeously written, with themes that run so much deeper than the innocence of first love. I’m always here for books reminding me I need to stop being so hasty to write off genres, and I’m so glad I gave All the Little Lights a shot. I definitely recommend this one!
Warm thanks to Montlake Romance for providing me with an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.