Wow! What a powerful book. I’ll get to it right off the bat, this was a 4.5 star book to me, rounded up to Goodreads. I’ll be honest though, if you fall as a very far right conservative, especially due to religion, you probably won’t enjoy this book. There’s the challenging of a lot of ultra conservative ideals. I can say that Overlook Press and Abrams Books KILLLLLLLS it with these powerful releases. I think they might be my favorite publishers outside of fantasy, I have enjoyed every book sent my way or purchased from them. This Little Light by Lori Lansens was no exception.
Let us start with a short synopsis. Rory and Fee are on the run after their Christian school is bomber during an Abstinence Ball where they are all pledging their virginity. They perform a cringe-inducing ceremony where they pledge to their fathers to abstain til marriage. Rory is an atheist and decided to partake since all of her friends did and it was an excuse to wear a beautiful dress. The newest addition to their school, Jinny is a Crusader, and has it out for Rory for not believing. When the school gets bombed and Rory gets blamed, Fee ends up along for the ride. While on the run, Rory journals her experience in unpublished blogs (as you not give away their location) and tries to figure out if Jinny set her up.
This all too realistic near-future novel starts out in ultra rich Calabasas (think Kardashians) where fanatical religion and hypocrisy walk hand in hand. The US has become obsessed with virginity and religion, women’s rights are being stripped, birth control and abortions are banned even in the most serious if circumstances. The country is afire with bounty hunters, seeking out those running underground services for women to receive safe womanly care. The bounty on Rory and Fee climbs in the millions. Everyone is obsessed with religion and purity, though they don’t practice what they preach behind closed doors. Affairs, fake celibacy, sexual aggression towards minors, scoffing at the poor when passing by them on the streets. Fake activism, writing passages about the huddled masses and how Jesus loved the poor, but calling them free loaders, wishing death upon the homeless “dirtying” their streets, and not stopping to help but scurrying last disdainfully.
“We write essays about Jesus’s love for the poor and disenfranchised then go shop Louis and Prada. We laze around our pools snarking in those who have no, idolizing those who have a shit-Tom. We’re jumping back and forth all day long—spiritual double Dutch—-and it makes me seriously dizzy.”
There’s a large look at the way the ultra rich hide behind conservatism fiscally, and how that can outweigh morality. People that are okay with their taxes and money being used to help the downtrodden get called bleeding hearts or libtards (which is thrown around in this book). Conducive to many instances in real life, this novel highlights the way greed can overshadow the love that religion is supposed to teach. The longing to control women, preaching abstinence to them while turning a blind eye to whatever the men do. Measuring the length of their skirts or shorts because they are supposed to be your idea of pure, which in theory itself is ridiculous, because no woman’s body is the same. These guidelines, checking for fingertips against shorts, using a yardstick for “skirting” in religious schools, are objectionable not only because clothes lay different on our bodies than the next person, but because a woman’s body shouldn’t be surveyed for how appropriate we deem it. The swell of a breast is immodest? Your thigh? These are social constructs and Lori Lansens highlights what happens when we let people run away with commanding women and their bodies.
Rory talks and thinks like a teenage girl, if not an intelligent one. Though she’s an atheist and a free spirit, she’s also afraid to fully break away from the crowd. Her friends go to a Christian school, so she does. Her friends attend an abstinence ball, so she does. They follow the Kardashians and like expensive clothes, so she does. She isn’t a perfect character. She’s an utterly believable teenage girl. She has hidden biases even though she’s more accepting than the other girls. She’s Jewish and her mother is an immigration lawyer, so she is more accepting of people of different culture and religion, as she’s been exposed to a wider worldview. She also understands that she has a lot to learn about racism, feminism, and privilege.
“The thing is, I don’t want to be a dick. The racism thing? The white privilege thing? The white feminist thing? I want to understand it all, and acknowledge it beyond the obvious, and I actually wanna get this shit right.”
I loved the juxtaposition of Jinny, a devout “virgin” used to market the Crusader cause while being this very sex kittenish bombshell. It really highlights the way women are salivated over for their virginity and the unhealthy obsession with it. It reminded me of how Britney Spears was marketed as this virgin sex icon to sell records, even though it was later found out that she wasn’t (and it shouldn’t matter what she was doing with her own life anyway).
The virginity pledge was straight creeeeeepy too. They essentially pledged to keep their virginity to their dads until they are married, but the way that it was done reminded me of certain weird politicians and celebrities that fawn over their daughters’ sex appeal and ability to be chaste. This happens closer to home, too, it’s just easy to cite people that are in the public eye. The fascination from men about their daughter’s sex life is really unhealthy and concerning, when they are fine with their sons doing whatever they want.
“You are my light. You are my love. And I promise Heaven up above. That I’ll keep you pure as the driven snow, till the day I have to let you go. I’ll always be your daddy. You’ll be my baby girl. One day I will share you, but until then you’ll wear my pearl.”
Makes you feel icky, right? Lori Lansens touches on everything; gaslighting victims, women’s reproductive rights, fake activism, hidden biases, fanatical religion, fiscal vs moral responsibility. I devoured this book over the span of a few hours. It was very easy to read, intelligent, witty, and important. If you were a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, you might enjoy this one too. I find that it is a middle ground between our current reality and the severity of that book/show. The character of Chase was a bit too neatly wrapped up and more thoroughly introduced right at the end, but I enjoyed it alla. This Little Light came out earlier this month and you can purchase it now. Thank you to Overlook and Abrams for sending me a finished copy for an honest review!