Title: The Light in Everything
Author: Katya Balen
Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: 5th July 2022
Synopsis: This is the story of Tom and Zofia.
Tom is quiet and careful and is only just starting to feel safe, even though his dad has been in jail for nearly two years now.
Zofia is the opposite. Inside her there’s a storm that’s always raging and it makes her want to run and shout and fight the whole world to make it give her what she wants.
What she wants most is for boring, babyish scaredy cat Tom to get out of her life. And Tom can’t think of anyone he likes less than loud, unpredictable Zofia. But Tom and his mum are moving into the little cottage by the sea where Zofia and her Dad live. Because Tom’s mum and Zofia’s dad are in love, and they’re having a baby.
Tom and Zofia both wish with all of their hearts that the stupid baby had never happened. But then, as Tom’s mum gets more and more ill, it begins to look like their wish might come true …
This is a story of learning to trust, learning to let go and diving into the unknown with hope in your heart from the author of THE SPACE WE’RE IN and OCTOBER, OCTOBER.
Zofia lives with her dad – it’s been them for so long, ever since her mother died. She’s loud and feels like there’s a storm inside her. She’s not very keen on things changing, and neither is Tom, who lives with his mum, safe after his father went to jail two years ago. He’s the opposite to Zofia – quiet, calm, and careful – and scared of the dark. He is just beginning to feel safe when his mum starts seeing Zofia’s dad. Zofia doesn’t want to get to know Tom, but then everything in Tom and Zofia’s life is about to change when their parents tell them that they’re having a baby. Tom’s life is upended again when he moves into Zofia’s house by the beach, taking all his paper cranes with him. But Zofia doesn’t want him there, and neither of them want the baby there either – the baby has changed things too much. But soon, Tom’s mum and the baby are sick, has their wish come true?
Told in the alternating perspectives of Tom and Zofia, it takes time to get to know them and peel the layers of who they are back – to understand what drives them and what they want. Why they are the way they are. It’s cleverly put together as well, and I think slower books like this allow readers to sit with the characters and come to terms with their lives. It was a book that I felt I needed to take my time with and also take time to understand the characters of Tom and Zofia because they’re so complex and unique, yet at the same time have some similarities that ultimately, could unite them and help them understand each other. The experimental format, where dialogue is in italics rather than in quotation marks might not be for everyone, but it works for this novel.
I’ve been reading lots of quieter and gentler novels lately, and the fact that there are so many out there shows that there is space for all kinds of novels across all readerships and genres. It does feel like there is a lot more diversity across the board in children’s and young adult books at times – we get friendship, sports, family – so many universal and specific things in this readership, and I love it. It means that there will always be a book for everyone, which is a wonderful thing, and will hopefully mean that all books find their audience. The Light in Everything also shows there are many ways to use conflict and reflect on relationships and the world, because we all experience the world and conflict in different ways.
It’s also a story about family – about two different families and family experiences, and the coming together of these families to create a new one, and how it affects everyone. The way the characters reacted to each other worked – being forced together meant there was little time for Tom and Zofia to get used to the idea, to understand what each other was going through, because at times it felt like nobody asked them. Granted, we did see the entire novel through their eyes, their responses and their understandings, but I still wished people had given them more time – allowed them to express themselves and talked to them. In the end though, it was a realistic story that showed these things can happen this way, and we won’t always understand everything about everyone we meet.
This book might help people going through changes like Tom and Zofia go through, or help people understand that there are families like this. I think there will be readers for this, probably those who enjoy the quiet and gentle books that don’t have action on every page. And I did like that it got into the story in a good time, whilst still giving a gentle and effective set-up for the rest of the novel.