Sara Barnard, Where the light goes, Walker Books, May 2023, 384 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781529509137
Award winning Sara Barnard’s newest YA novel, Where the light goes, poignantly and expertly captures the experience of grief from the perspective of sixteen year old Emmy. This book tackles heavy themes of suicide and substance abuse, hence a trigger warning is particularly appropriate.
When Emmy receives an unexpected phone call on a regular Tuesday morning, the course of her entire life changes instantly and her world shatters into hundreds and thousands of pieces. Upon the news that her famous older sister, Beth, has taken her own life, Emmy, her family and the global online community spiral into battling denial, guilt, and ultimately heart-wrenching pain. However, Emmy finds herself consumed by anger, which dismantles her relationship, her friendships, and her sense of self. Violently stripped of the guiding light of her brilliant big sister, Emmy is forced to come to terms with her death and discover herself in light of her devastating loss.
Barnard’s intricate exploration of grief is earnest and honest in her multimedia style. As she plays with font and diverts from the traditional chapter format through the inclusion of interview excerpts, WhatsApp conversations and social media comments, Barnard effectively engages with the target YA audience. What I found most striking about the novel’s style was its chunking nature, uniquely jumping from scene to scene to capture the slow thud of pain and abrupt change of emotions that often accompany grief.
Where the Light Goes has me enthralled and saddened, but ultimately inspired to make the most of the relationships with the people I love, as Emmy did with Beth. I highly recommend this touching story to brave readers aged fourteen plus.
Reviewed by Olivia Sammut