Book Review: The Light of the Fireflies, by Paul Pen

In Paul Pen’s The Light of the Fireflies, a ten year old boy’s secluded world gets complicated when his sister gives birth in the basement – the only home he has ever known. Days pass, tensions in the basement rise, and the story behind his family’s disfigurement, their eleven-year isolation, and the fire that drove them there loses its simplicity. As the boy struggles to reconcile the broken adults around him with the scarred, familiar faces of his loved ones, the cracks in their truths become too apparent to ignore. All the while, an overwhelming question goes yet unanswered: Why can’t they leave the basement?

My one word reaction: Memorable. When I finished the last page, I was struck with the certainty that this story would stick with me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted it to find a permanent resting place in my mind. From Pen’s unholy descriptions of their physical attributes, to their unhealthy relationships and off-putting habits and quirks, the boy’s family unnerved me to no end. The grotesqueness of the secondary characters almost made my shudder reflex break.

Do I regret the read? Not even a little; it was thoroughly entertaining. The suspense was page turning, and the plot had enough twists that it was sufficiently surprising, even though the child protagonist discovered the truth a little slower than I did.

Because the story is told from the child’s point of view, his thick-headedness was sometimes frustrating. And the fact that most of the novel occurs within the confines of a converted basement became a bit claustrophobia inducing. But Pen handles these two seeming limitations well, making the child believable and managing the limited space through the boy’s POV.

Read The Light of the Fireflies and follow with apprehension as a boy tests his physical and emotional limits and grapples with themes of loyalty, trust, deception, and hope.

The Light of the Fireflies (2016), by author Paul Pen, translated from Spanish (El brillo de las luciernagas, 2013) by Simon Bruni.
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