Lori Lansens is one of my favourite Canadian writers; I’ve read and loved all of her books so I was anxious to read This Little Light, her latest novel. It is an intense, compelling read.
Events are set in Calabasas, California, over a period of 48 hours in November of 2024. Sixteen-year-old Rory Miller and her best friend, Fee (Feliza) Lopez, are hunted fugitives hiding in a shed. They are accused of bombing their Christian high school during an American Virtue Ball after they took virginity oaths. As they hide, Rory writes for her blog, This Little Light, explaining what is happening in the present and what lead to their being outlaws: “In order to remain calm-ish, I’m going to write our side of the story. I’m afraid we’ll be tracked to the shed if I post entries in real time, so I won’t submit until I know we’re safe.”
Rory’s world is a dystopian near-future which was obviously inspired by current events. Her world is that of double- and triple-gated communities outside of which there are “dozens of tent cities and homeless encampments” inhabited by illegal immigrants. Because of drought, finding safe drinking water is difficult: “now irrigation water’s reclaimed so not potable, and you can only drink bottled or tap, but only if the tap has a filtration system, which many poor people still don’t have.” And “it’s always fire season now.”
Christian fundamentalists have gained political power so abortion has been re-criminalized: “we girls hung on all the celebrity accusations and #MeToo confessions just like everyone else. Then came all the abortion stuff. Fetal heartbeat restrictions. Counseling restrictions. Ultrasound requirements. Near bans and outright prohibitions.” Teenaged girls are pressured to make chastity oaths, but there does exist a Pink Market “helping minors access birth control, and morning-after pills, and getting them to underground clinics.”
Rory and Fee are branded “Villains in Versace” but Rory is not a typical privileged girl. Though she has typical adolescent concerns (“fear of missing out” and “fear of losing my best friends” to a new girl and getting “a lot of likes” on social media), she cares about others. During a fire evacuation, she worries about “Mrs. Shea at the end of our street because she’s deaf and takes too many pills.” She knows that “not everybody starts life with the same degree of privilege” and wonders “Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to, like, find a way to get everybody in the game?” Her mother’s description of Rory is the most accurate: someone believing “in truth, and honesty, humility and humanity…. relentless in her questioning of herself, and of our world.”
More than once, Rory is described as “Relentless. Too true. I never shut up. I never give up. I ask too many questions. I’m a contrarian.” It is her intelligent and independent thinking that stands out. She calls out a friend who refuses to give money to a beggar by saying, “’That’s straight-up unchristian, Jinny.’” She makes observations like “when you mix wealth and privilege and religion, and isolation from the real world, I mean, when people actually believe they deserve their shit, they’re gonna tend to skew dickish.” She asks, “Shouldn’t actual evidence decide guilt or innocence, not freaking polls?” She expresses disgust with immigration policy when one woman is deported, “being sent to a place she hasn’t seen in twenty-five years, where she has no family or friends. Jesus fucking Christ.” She is not afraid of self-examination either: “all the things I’ve taken for granted. The sense of entitlement … My house. My ensuite bathroom. My filtered water. Agua. Not just clean water to drink and cook with, but clean water to wash myself with.”
Rory has an authentic teenage voice. She tends to end words with y like “corpse-y” and “spectrum-y” and “pose-y” and “desert-y”. She says “prolly” for probably and overuses “whatever”. In her sentences, she leaves out words: a father is “hardly home because work”; Calabasas “is famous because Kardashians”; teenage girls eat little “of the food because thin”; and “My parents, because Canadian, but also because statistics, hated guns, and brought me up to fear and loathe them too.”
The novel certainly maintains the reader’s interest throughout. There is suspense because of the danger which the girls face. Rory and Fee are being chased by the police but also by fundamentalist Christians known as Crusaders and by bounty hunters seeking the million dollar reward for finding them. Dogs, drones and helicopters are being used. Hate against them is being inflamed on television and online. Of course, the reader also wants to know what happened to bring the girls into this situation. Rory flashes back to earlier events and gradually reveals the sequence of events that lead to their being fugitives.
The message of the book is that people must question and work to find the truth. Rory calls out someone who uses graphic images “to emotionally manipulate . . . and confuse” in an argument against a woman’s right to make decisions about her body. Rory realizes that her and Fee’s hope lies in “journalists, and regular people, … starting to question.” She even wants to have children and teach them about resistance: “I wanna raise the kind of people who speak up, and ask questions, and call themselves out as well as others, and dig deeper.”
This novel touches on so many subjects: women’s rights, economic disparity, immigration, religion, sexuality, climate change, and parenting. Of course, I could not but think of The Handmaid’s Tale. Like Atwood’s book, This Little Light offers so much to ponder. Though the novel is set in 2024, the world described is much more present than future.
Author’s note: In return for an honest review, I received a digital galley from the publisher via NetGalley.
About the author: Doreen Yakabuski, a Barry’s Bay native, credits the Barry’s Bay Public Library and the Madonna House Lending Library for cultivating her love of reading. After a career as an English teacher/teacher-librarian in Timmins, she and her husband, Jack Vanderburg, settled near Cornwall. Now, Doreen reviews books on her blog: https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.com/