Cover How the Light Gets In: Polaroid pictures piled on each other on a background of flowers and grass

About the Book

Title: How the Light Gets In
Published: 2019
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Look At This Photograph
BFF Charm: Meh
Talky Talk: Dig Deeper
Bonus Factor: Small Towns
Factors: Ghosts, Mysteries
Relationship Status: Support Group Acquaintances

Cover Story: Look At This Photograph

*sings* Every time I do it makes me… whoops, super sorry I just got that stuck in your head! *evil laughs* This is an inoffensive, fairly bland cover. The dead flowers in a field and the pile of photos with the two girls framed by a sunset pretty much scream, “Get sad, everyone!”

The Deal:

Callie’s dad has given her a summer ultimatum: go to a reform camp for “troubled” teens in Montana, or visit her aunt Lucy in the teeny oceanside town of Bell Cove, Oregon and help Lucy with her B&B renovations. Callie’s mostly given up on living life since her younger sister died tragically last summer, but she’s awake enough to know that reform camp sounds horrible.

Bell Cove is full of memories, because it’s the location of Chloe’s untimely death. It’s also full of people who want Callie to open up, like her aunt Lucy constantly trying discuss Chloe and process their grief together; or the cute new yard boy, Tucker Morgan, who just wants to make Callie smile. Except Chloe’s death is basically Callie’s fault, and she’s not sure she’ll ever feel normal again. How do you go on living without someone you love?

BFF Charm: Meh

BFF charm with a :-| face

When we meet Callie, she’s a broken shell of what she used to be: happy, great student, dedicated swimmer. She spends most of her time smoking weed and missing her best friend. I’m not here to judge anyone’s grief, but it’s clear that over the past year there hasn’t been a lot of productive emotional processing going on in the Ryan household. It was tough to connect with Callie, especially because she’s gotten very good at pushing people away. Her constant smoking also got on my nerves. I’m not personally a person who has ever had any interest in drugs, though I try not to judge someone else’s recreational usage (your body, your life); however, Callie’s drug use wasn’t for “fun”. She used it as a tool to numb her pain and the harsh reality of life, and that isn’t cool.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Tucker Morgan—aside from having one of the bro-iest names in America—is almost too good to be true. He’s got a banging swimmer’s body; he’s kind, sweet, and respectful to adults; and even when his advances are rebuffed, he would never be angry or turn into a Nice Guy™. Callie holds him at arms’ length because she feels she doesn’t deserve good things, but she’s helpless against his easy charm and tousled blond locks. He’s a dude most of us would LOVE to know in real life, but I didn’t feel butterflies when it came to the romance. There were also times when Callie’s dependency on how he made her feel better made me slightly concerned that she was simply trading one drug for another.

Talky Talk: Dig Deeper

Katy Upperman is obviously a fan of quiet, normal, slice-of-life novels. There was nothing glaringly wrong with How the Light Gets In, but by the time I got to the end I didn’t feel like I’d been taken on an emotional journey or moved in any true way. There was nary a tear or a sniffle, and that is rare for me when it comes to books about grief (and I can tear up at a Publix Thanksgiving commercial, so it’s not like it’s difficult to “get” me). I think needed more from the characters, for them to dig deeper, and perhaps for the stakes to be raised a little higher. I would’ve loved to see more of a connection between Callie and her aunt, for them to have more honest conversations as time went on, but the book kept skimming the surface of their relationship. Maybe it’s realistic for Callie to constantly shut Lucy down, but it doesn’t make for a very engaging story.  

Bonus Factor: Small Towns

A yellow sunset on the main street of a small town

This is my second book in recent memory about a tiny coastal town in Oregon. I feel like the universe is trying to tell me something. There’s one stoplight and cutesy hole-in-the-wall restaurants and dives, plus, of course, a cozy bookstore where the shop-owner knows all the town’s tea.

Factor: Ghosts

Outline of ghostly figure

This factor brings up another issue I have with this book. As soon as Callie arrives at Bell Cove, she starts feeling…haunted. This may(?) be a slight spoiler, but she eventually sees the ghost of her sister and even speaks to her. I don’t know why this felt so jarring, but this apparent supernatural phenomena just didn’t jibe with the rest of the story. The back of the book even says, “Will Callie be able to figure out what her sister is trying to communicate before it’s too late?” but I suppose I took that more metaphorically than literally when I picked it up.

Factor: Mysteries

Nancy Drew creeping up an old stone staircase with her flashlight

Upperman doles out the mystery of how Chloe died and what led to it, though within a few chapters it’s pretty easy to guess the truth. She also throws in another local mystery about a girl who allegedly committed suicide right near the house Callie’s aunt is renovating, but although Callie does some digging, we never learn the actual story. That feels realistic, and I know that the reason we learn this girl’s story isn’t to discover the truth of her death, per se, but I am that person who WANTS TO KNOW THINGS, and when books don’t deliver on that it makes me grumpy.

Relationship Status: Support Group Acquaintances

I’m pretty sure I stumbled into this grief support group on the beach by mistake (I, uh, was looking for beach bingo). It felt rude to leave while you were in the middle of your sad tale, so I stuck it out, and I have to say: I feel some sympathy for you…buuut I still want to have some fun this summer, so…I’ll see myself out.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Swoon Reads. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. How the Light Gets In is available now.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.