A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

I have a confession to make. I’m afraid of ghosts and spooky stories in general. I don’t like hearing horror stories or watching scary films. So when I first saw Angie’s Retro Friday review of A Certain Slant of Light, I didn’t want to read it. I mean, would you look at that cover? It’s enough to make the scaredy-cat in me afraid. It wasn’t until Holly assured me that this wasn’t a scary book did I decide to give it a try. Good thing it’s available in Fully Booked for P378. For some reason, I thought it’ll be harder to find a copy of it.

Here’s the summary from Laura Whitcomb’s website:

In the class of the high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them: For the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen – terrified, but intrigued – is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge. But as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

Helen is a being of Light. Yes, that means that she’s a ghost and for several decades, she has existed in this world by cleaving to different hosts. She stays near her hosts because otherwise, she’ll be pulled back to the depths of what she believes is her personal hell. No one sees her or hears her and she’s gotten used to that fact. Until a boy in her host’s class looks at her directly. Turns out James is also of Light and he’s started occupying a high school boy’s body when the boy’s spirit vacated it. Naturally, both Helen and James are curious about each other because they’ve never met anyone else like them. Thus begins an unusual romance.

This is a beautiful, beautiful book. A couple of chapters in and I knew I was going to love the writing. Here’s a sample of one of Helen and James’ early conversations. They’re in the library, discussing Billy’s homework which James needs to revise. Billy is the high school boy who James has possessed.

He wrote and whispered the words aloud as he did. “I am in the library. It smells like old stuff.”

“It smells familiar,” I suggested. “It smells like words.” Because his left side was to me, I couldn’t easily take his hand to write.

“Books are boring,” James said as he wrote.

“They line the walls like a thousand leather doorways to be opened into worlds unknown,” I offered.

He thought about this and then wrote with a smile, “I hate books.”

“A sea of dreams trapped in a span of pressed pages,” I said.

Lovely, isn’t it? You can see Helen’s love for the written word reflected with those few lines. It is because of this love that she has cleaved to literary minded hosts. The story is narrated from Helen’s point of view and because she comes from a different time, her words lend a certain old world feel to the entire book. It’s always a pleasure to read a book with a main character who loves to read. Similar to how James found Billy, Helen discovers Jenny, a teenage girl empty of spirit. As Helen and James get to know each other better, Helen struggles to live Jenny’s life and comes to understand what has caused Jenny’s spirit to fly away. It was amusing to watch both Helen and James cope with modern life – the slang used by teenagers, food that they never got to taste when they were alive like pizza and root beer, the posture and gestures common to present day situations. Aside from that, they also try to understand why they’ve been unable to move on from this world and why .

I wonder why this book isn’t more well-known? It is a delightful book with a unique premise and relatable characters. I haven’t read anything like it. I’m also continually amazed at how YA novels touch on serious topics such as loneliness and redemption without the heavy feeling that usually comes with reading things like these. In spite of the unusual aspects of the book like having a ghost as its main character, A Certain Slant of Light is a love story at its core. I hope more people get to read this one. Has anyone read Laura Whitcomb’s other book – Fetch? I’m curious of that book is just as good as this one.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Book Harbinger
Emily and Her Little Pink Notes
Tempting Persephone
Bookshelves of Doom

24 thoughts on “A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

  1. Very thoughtful review. I’m relieved you weren’t spooked. I too loved the writing, the “old world feel” and all the literature references. It is a love story at heart and more people need to read it. We need to change this somehow. πŸ™‚

    • I’m really a wimp when it comes to scary stories so I’m glad this one wasn’t like that. Yes, I also liked the references to literature. Such an unexpectedly lovely story! Oooh I also like the love letter:

      “Dear sir: twelve hours is as twelve years to me. I imagine you in your home, smiling, thinking of me. That I am your heart’s secret fills me with song. I wish I could sing of you here in my cage. You are my heart’s hidden poem. I reread you, memorize you, every moment we’re apart.”

      Yes, we need to convince more people to read this!

  2. seems to me, this book really is haunting, but because of the beautiful writing pointed out by your beautiful review. loving not-so-well-know books is both sad and exhilarating. sad because these great books are put in the shade by not-so-good books but with excellent marketing. exhilarated because we belong to an elite who can appreciate these books.

    • Sad and exhilarating, exactly! I really wonder why so many good books aren’t that popular. I guess marketing really is a huge factor so maybe that’s why book bloggers should promote under the radar books. πŸ™‚ LOL at belonging to the elite.

  3. Oh, yay!! You read it. And you loved it. I am so glad. This one is so little known that I’m always just a tiny bit afraid it won’t go over as well with new readers as it did with me. But how could it not? The writing is gorgeous and thoughtful. And the characters are sweet and fine amid the darkness around them.

    Great review, Chachic!

    • Thank YOU, Angie for reviewing this for Retro Friday. I wouldn’t have found out about it if it weren’t for you and Holly. When I started reading this, I was also afraid that I won’t end up liking it. But when I saw those lines that I quoted, I knew it’s going to be good. I kept thinking about the book while I was at work and I couldn’t wait to get home to finish it.

      Have you, by any chance, read Fetch? I want to know if it’s as good as this one.

      • Sadly, I stopped THE FETCH partway through. It just didn’t have the beauty of this one. Felt cold and disjointed in comparison. But, I am happy to report, she is working on a sequel to CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT and I am soooo interested to see where she goes with it.

      • Aww too bad Fetch isn’t as good but thanks for letting me know! She is? I will definitely read that one! I can’t wait to see where she takes the story. I hope we find out more about Billy and Jenny.

  4. The cover gives off an…eerie feeling which, I guess, is a good thing considering how its main character is a ghost. I like it. πŸ™‚

    I haven’t yet read anything similar to the theme of the book, actually, cause I’m quite scared of ghost stories myself. But this one seems to be more touching than scary, so I’ll give it a shot. Thanks for the review!

    • It’s a spooky cover! I really thought it was a horror story or something like that so I didn’t want to read it. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one afraid of ghost stories! This one is really nice, not scary at all, you have my assurance. I’ve seen that Fully Booked has several copies if you’re interested in getting it. πŸ™‚

  5. Oh This book is very peculiar and sophisticated in its own way, I am glad you loved it. Two days ago I found out that it has been transalated in a few languages (surprisingly also in italian, generally only worldwide bestsellers authors like Meyer, Marr, … Stiefvater are) so maybe it was more successful than we thought. By all means now I am forcing the italian version on all my friends πŸ™‚

    • Wow, it’s good to hear that it’s been translated in other languages! You’re right, that usually just happens with bestsellers. Have you read the Italian edition, is it just as good as the English version? Yes, recommend it to your friends! πŸ™‚

  6. You are absolutely right about the cover…if I saw this book at the bookstore, I probably wouldn’t pick it up.

    But it does have such a unique concept so if I see a copy, I will definitely buy it.:)

  7. This looks really interesting. So I looked it up at Barnes, it’s out of stock everywhere. 😦 I’ll just put it on my wish-list nalang. I’ll just go read the Kate Daniels instead πŸ™‚

    • Aww too bad it’s out of stock in Barnes and Noble! What about Amazon? Although it’s great that you’re going to read the Kate Daniels books instead! πŸ™‚ I’d love to hear what you think of them.

  8. Great review! I got a copy of this book but I never got the chance of reading it. I bought it years ago and haven’t really get my mood into it until now that I read your review. I guess I’ll be reading it soon as I plan to put it on my current read list. Thanks for your review ^__^

    • Hey Maricar, did you get your copy from Fully Booked? I was actually surprised that they had stocks of this because I felt like it would be harder to find. I’m glad you’re picking up your own copy and reading it soon. Let me know how it goes!

      • I got my copy online via ebay. The book is actually recommended to me by a friend but I got a hard time finding a copy in local bookstores. So when I saw it available online I bid right away. And I won the bidding. I got it at a cheap price though the shipping is NOT cheap! But I still consider it worth the price. I haven’t start reading it, my plan is to read it this coming friday as it is holiday I got free time for my reading list till weekend. I’ll let you know how does it goes after.

      • Oh you got it in ebay. Did you order it from abroad? Shipping is usually very expensive when you do that. But yes, I’d like to think that this book is worth the money that you paid for it. I’m looking forward to the long weekend as well. I want it to be here so I can read my books already! πŸ™‚

  9. I can’t remember where I saw this book first. The cover looks…haunting. Creepy. Haha I’m not such a fan of ghost stories either — my logic is if it scares me, why should I read it? πŸ˜›

    I do like books that say stuff about liking books or literature, too. Your review makes me think that this book is similar to Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. I think I have the sample downloaded, so I’ll start from that and see if I would really want it print or downloaded. πŸ˜€

    • I know, I don’t even watch horror movies! Good thing I was assured that this book isn’t scary at all. Otherwise I wouldn’t have touched it.

      Oh I haven’t read The Thirteenth Tale but it sounds interesting if it talks about liking literature. Yay, hope you like the sample so you’ll end up getting this! I can’t wait to get my own Kindle so I can try out samples too. πŸ™‚

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