Desert Isle Keeper
I’m not normally into contemporary romances. They’re not bad by any means, but they usually don’t appeal to me. However, every once in a while, a really special book will come along and make me glad I don’t overlook this particular sub-genre of romance altogether. Jamie McGuire’s All the Little Lights is just such a book. I finished reading it a few hours ago, and I can’t wait for everyone I know to go out and buy their own copies of this sweet, compelling love story.
When Elliott and Catherine meet for the first time the summer after their freshman year in high school, they click immediately. Elliott is spending the summer with his aunt and uncle while his parents – who seem to fight far more than they get along – try to get their marriage back on track. He’s immediately captivated by Catherine’s beauty, but he’s also struck by the sadness in her eyes. There’s something about her that calls out to him for protection, and Elliott vows to always be there for her no matter what. But Catherine’s life is pretty complicated, and she’s not sure it’s a good idea to make friends with Elliott. After all, she’s a total outcast at school, and there’s a part of Catherine that prefers to keep it that way. It seems to her that close friendships will just complicate her life further, and she’s not sure she’s up for that.
Elliott is persistent though, and it doesn’t take long for Catherine to succumb to his charms. Soon, the two are inseparable, and Catherine begins to understand that Elliott’s friendship might just be the thing that saves her from a life that she’s always thought of as pretty bleak. Unfortunately, Elliott’s mother comes to collect him several weeks ahead of schedule on the very day Catherine’s father suffers a fatal heart attack. Elliott tries to say goodbye to Catherine, but his mother, who has a huge grudge against Catherine’s family, refuses to allow it. So, Elliott is forced to leave Catherine behind when she needs him the most.
Two years later, Elliott’s parents have divorced, and he’s convinced his mother to let him spend his senior year with his aunt and uncle. He’s desperate to be reunited with Catherine, but when he is finally able to talk to her again, she seems to want nothing to do with him. The sudden death of her father has plunged Catherine’s life into chaos, and she struggles every day to keep her family’s bed and breakfast afloat. She knows letting Elliott back into her life would be a huge mistake. He’s already walked away from her once, and, if he ever manages to uncover the dark secret she’s been hiding for years, she’s pretty sure he’ll leave her again, so what’s the point of giving him the chance to hurt her that way?
As you can probably imagine, Elliott once again manages to break down Catherine’s many defenses, and pretty soon, the two of them are dating. Finally, Catherine feels like she has a chance at true happiness, but then, a local girl goes missing and Elliott is implicated in her disappearance. Suddenly, he’s a pariah in town and things become very dangerous for both Catherine and Elliott. Will their love survive?
All the Little Lights is a story of first love that manages to be incredibly sweet without being the slightest bit fluffy. In fact, Ms. McGuire tackles some very heavy issues here. Her characters deal with racism, domestic violence, and mental illness, and none of it is glossed over or romanticized. Instead, the author manages to give her readers a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of everyday people who struggle with these things.
The relationship between Catherine and Elliott is amazing. There is absolutely nothing these two won’t do for one another, and if the depth of their feelings occasionally comes off as a little over the top, it’s easy to push aside any momentary annoyance and remember the heightened emotions of our own first loves. It also helps that neither character is perfect. They both have challenges, and Ms. McGuire does a great job letting readers see both their strengths and their weaknesses.
The novel contains an element of mystery that I really loved. It doesn’t shift the focus away from the relationship between Elliott and Catherine, and instead serves to add an extra layer of urgency to their story. I can’t say too much about it without spoiling things, but I will say that I was completely surprised by the way things turned out. I’m usually pretty good at figuring things out, but my detection skills failed me here.
All the Little Lights is one of those stories that completely sucks the reader in. It’s almost 450 pages, but the book seemed to fly by, and if life hadn’t gotten in my way, I would have gladly read it in a single sitting. Have I convinced you to go out and get a copy yet? I certainly hope so. This is a book that will remain with me for a long time to come, and I’m eager for others to get lost in it the way I did.