By Author / Illustrator
Katya Balen, illus Sydney Smith
Family & Home
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Paperback / softback
From the author of October, October, winner of the Yoto Carnegie Medal 2022, comes a life-affirming story about blended families and learning to find room in your heart for new life and new love.
Tom is still quiet and timid, even though his dad has been gone for nearly two years now. Zofia has a raging storm that makes her want to fight the whole world until she gets what she wants. And what she wants is for scaredy-cat Tom to get out of her life. Tom hates loud, unpredictable Zofia just as much, but he's moving into Zofia's house. Because his mum and Zofia's dad are in love ... and they're having a baby. Tom and Zofia both wish the stupid baby had never happened. But then Tom's mum gets ill, and it begins to look horribly like their wish might come true ... A story of learning to trust, trying to let go and diving into the unknown with hope in your heart, with a stunning cover illustrated by CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal winner Sydney Smith.
'Original, compulsive, uplifting: this is another triumph for Balen' - Alex O'Connell, The Times Children's Book of the Week. 'Balen's best book yet: ambitious, funny, spirited, moving, heartfelt and bold all at once. She's a force to be reckoned with' - Ross Montgomery.
The Light in Everything was interesting, as the two main characters despised each other, and had very different personalities, yet the author did not seem to prefer one over the other, and both had understandable reasons to dislike one another.
The two points of view met perfectly as they saw each other for the first time and as they started to live together, however, Zofia was just so difficult to like, and agree with, as every time you think she might actually be nice, she does something horrible to Tom which just makes you lose faith in her; this made reading from her perspective difficult as it was really annoying as she made things worse and worse for herself.
Overall, although I disliked Zofia as a person, her character arc was good, and reading from Tom's point of view was always interesting, and to me, seeing his personality develop was one of the best parts of the book. Recommend ages 8+ due to mature themes (abuse, bullying).
Suggested Reading Age 9+
It took no time at all to be entranced by the beautiful prose and emotional depth of this wonderful story: I raced through it compulsively - and then felt a sense of loss when it was over too soon.
Born in a storm and with a character to match, Zofia is loud and bold and sometimes boiling mad; deep down, though, she's pretty happy living with her Dad in a cottage by the sea. Meanwhile, Tom lives in a flat with his mum. He's the opposite: quiet and terrified. His fingers tremble and he can't sleep without the light on, even though he and his mum have been safe from his dad for two years now.
Tom and Zofia take it in turns to tell the story of their parents falling in love and deciding to move in together because they are expecting a new baby. The children each make clear their instant dislike of the other and the whole messy situation. With extraordinary deftness, Katya Balen creates two distinct and distinctly convincing children's voices in lyrical and expressive language. I was astonished by the skilful use of words, even as I was captivated by the emotional drama.
The first person narratives gradually unwrap the way Tom and Zofia's contrasting personalities, back stories and insecurities build a wall of misunderstanding between them. The use of different perspectives on the same events works to create a rounded picture of events (and an exceptionally acute depiction of the corrosive power of Zofia's jealousy). Then, in a satisfying ending, the children find redemption by confronting the truth, however raw and uncomfortable.
The Light in Everything would be great as a whole class read in Year 5 or 6 or for the library if that's not possible. Recommend it to any children who enjoy the stories of Lisa Thompson, R J Palacio and Onjali Rauf - or who are struggling with adjusting to life in a newly blended family. In fact, recommend it to everyone; readers, I whole-heartedly recommend it to you.
336 pages / Reviewed by Louisa Farrow, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+