Monday, May 20, 2019
Book Review: "Lights All Night Long" by Lydia Fitzpatrick
Ilya is 15 years old and lives in a small town in Russia with his mother, grandmother, and his older brother, Vladimir, whom he idolizes. Vladimir is a bit of a ne'er-do-well, more content to chase girls and commit petty crimes than go to school, but he knows Ilya is the smart one. The two dream of one day leaving their bleak surroundings for America, a country they only know through pirated VCR movies from the 1990s.
When an exchange program between the refinery in Ilya's town and an energy company in a small Louisiana town is created, Ilya's teacher knows there is only one student deserving of a chance to go to America, and it is him. Ilya is excited to finally go to America but is sad about leaving his brother behind, and Vladimir is torn between jealousy and wanting the best for Ilya. But the America that greets Ilya is very different than he imagined, and he's not quite sure what to make of his cheerful, religious host family, although they want him to feel comfortable.
Ilya tries to settle in and make the most of this new opportunity, but he can't stop worrying about Vladimir, who was arrested just before Ilya left for America, after he confessed to the brutal murder of three young women. Ilya knows there's no way that his brother could be a murderer, although he did fall prey to a powerful and dangerous new drug that started holding many in their town in its thrall. His mother wants him to forget about Vladimir and concentrate on building a better life, but he can't give up on a brother who taught him so muchgood and badand with whom he dreamed of coming to America.
When Sadie, the oldest daughter of his host family, begins taking an interest in him, Ilya shares his worries about his brother and his suspicions that somehow Vladimir is taking the fall for someone else. The two of them begin to dig deeper into the facts and the innuendo surrounding the murders and the events leading up to Vladimir's confession, while at the same time, Sadie shares with Ilya some powerful secrets of her own.
Lights All Night Long shifts between Ilya's life in Louisiana and the year leading up to when he went to America. You see how Vladimir changed once Ilya was tapped to be the exchange student, how Vladimir wanted the chance for himself despite never having made the effort, yet he also was proud of his brother. Ilya's desperation to find the truth leads to painful discoveries, but ultimately, hope that he can save his brother from the things that might do him harm.
While I felt like the book took a while to really get moving, in the end I really enjoyed this story. It was definitely more of a mystery than I had anticipated, which is fine, and I thought the story would concentrate more on Ilya's life in Louisiana than recounting the past, but it all worked for me, mainly because Fitzpatrick is a terrific storyteller. As I mentioned earlier, she was able to vividly capture both the chill of Ilya's Russian town and the heat of the Louisiana bayou, and she deftly captured Ilya's experience adjusting to life in America.
It's often hard to realize how lucky we are when we're confronted with a crisis at the same time. Lights All Night Long is a moving story of the sacrifices we make for those we love, sacrifices which go unnoticed until it might be too late. With this book, Fitzpatrick proves that she's definitely an author to follow in the future to see what she does next.