In the cover blurbs, the narrator of M. J. Hyland’s debut novel, How Light Gets In, is compared to Holden Caulfield. And surely there are some nods to Cather in the Rye but one might also compare it to The Sterile Cuckoo, The Bell Jar, The Moviegoer or any number of books (I would even argue that it shares similar themes to Anne of Green Gables) about one coming of age, awkwardly and with a brain too big for others to handle.
Lou Connor is fascinating and because she is fascinating, the book narrated by her recounting her time as an Australian exchange student living with a host family in a wealthy suburb of Chicago is fascinating. Lou comes from Sydney, where she left behind her alcoholic parents and evil older sisters. She is in America on a full-scholarship exchange. She received the scholarship because of her intelligence–and this intelligence is evident throughout.
More than the plot, though, what is so interesting is the character study of this young woman. One of the first things she tells the reader is what she knows about serial killers–that most of them were treated randomly as children. And then, throughout the rest of the narrative, she shows us how she was treated in a similar way, which may explain why she has a difficult time sleeping and why the touch of others leaves her cold.
She also (as do most teenagers) paints herself the victim in all situations–even those she has brought on herself. And when we might find ourselves tiring of her angst, she pulls through with another facet of herself (such as having a great singing voice) which makes us interested in her again.
Ultimately, we don’t know the truth of what happens to Lou. Throughout, her narration is unreliable and then when Lou prods the other exchange student to read the urgent letter from her mother and then tell her what it says, we are left with yet another layer of potentially unreliable narration.
I found this book engrossing in the same way I once blazed through Less than Zero and various and sundry other Bret Easton Ellis books–and that is that while I wanted to spend this time looking into Lou’s world, I’m extremely happy that I don’t have to live it.
So don’t judge this book by its cover and think that you are going to be reading yet another in a line of Holden Caulfield wannbes; Lou Connor is an original and her voice will bewitch you.