The Light of the Fireflies is a surprise of a book. It certainly seems like the heir apparent to Room, a book about a young boy who’s only known the life of a completely enclosed room (or set of rooms). Instead of living there only with his mother, he lives there with his family, all horrifically transfigured from a fire that forced them into their current living situation. His family comprises his strict father, his loving mother, his grandmother, his older brother, and his pregnant sister. A sister that is pregnant despite having spent the last 10 years surrounded only by her family.
The sister’s pregnancy and the ensuing family drama that follows is wonderfully told. Despite the closed nature of their life, the young protagonist continues to have hope in his voice, and his hope is personified in the ‘fireflies’ that he captures. However, his hope is shaken by multiple things all spawning from the realization that his family has been lying to him about different aspects of his life. These lies build on each other, taking down the world that the young boy (and the reader) recognize. As we learn more about the circumstances surrounding their voluntary enclosure, we see how each of the young boy’s beliefs fit in the larger picture.
The part that stood out for me is the earnest nature of the young boy’s imagination. You could see it in the baby chick that he cared for so dearly, despite fears that his father may find out about it, and in his attempts at espionage using tricks he picked up from his spy book. But nothing personified this more than the fireflies that he kept in his jar. He always loved fireflies because they were able to create their own light, something that must be wonderful for a boy who lives in a world generally devoid of sunlight.
But ultimately this book is a family drama, and to that end, it struggles a bit. Each family member is played up so much. The father’s stern demeanor, the sister’s hatred toward the family, the mother’s caring, but at times apathetic, nature, the brother’s rambunctiousness, the grandmother’s blind eye to the craziness going on. The author builds up to a reveal in an unnatural way, by taking all of the things you’ve learned a flipping them in a way that, for me, was too hard of a turn.
Overall though, the book is a great read, though can feel plodding at times. The characters are interesting, and the way Pen tells the story through the eyes of a young boy make the story so much more interesting.