Friday, September 4, 2009

Book Review: First Light, by Rebecca Stead

"[Peter's] eyes found the red ring, no bigger than a quarter, and focused on it. The ring came closer until he could see it clearly, twisting strands of color suspended in the ice. He stared at it, careful not to bring it too close this time."

Peter lives in New York City with his scientist/professor parents. Now that he's twelve, they seem overly concerned about whether he's been getting headaches, like his mother does. He gets the feeling there's something they aren't telling him. Then his father receives an invitation to study glaciers in Greenland, and he gets to bring the whole family, and Peter is excited and anxious at the same time. One day, while exploring the glacier on his own, Peter finds an intricately woven red ring embedded in the ice. And then, he experiences visions both terrifying and exciting. Peter is determined to get to the bottom of things. Why are his parents so concerned about headaches? Where are these visions coming from? And how did that ring get in the ice?

Thea desperately wants to see the sun - something she has never done. She doesn't understand - why is her grandmother so against the expansion? Their world, deep beneath the arctic glacier, is rapidly approaching the day that it can no longer sustain her people as it is. They need to branch out, and the surface seems to be the only way to reach the far side of their subglacial lake. Thea can't shake the notion that getting to the surface is the answer to saving their world. She wants to see the sun. And she's determined to figure out a way to get there.

For Teachers and Librarians:
If you have students slow to warm to books, First Light could be just the thing to light the fire of curiosity in them. The story is told from the point of view of both Peter and Thea. Both are strong, smart, independently thinking kids. Both have their own mysteries to solve. But neither can solve their mystery with out the other. And neither realizes that the other exists. Both will have to rely on science, history, family, intuition, and ultimately each other to solve their dilemmas.

You'll be able to link this book to discussions and activities centering on a wide array of scientific subjects: DNA, geothermal heat, arctic climate, global warming, glacier study methods, earth forms and phenomena (glaciers, subglacial lakes, glacier melt, glacier calving), to name a few. You can also head to cultural discussions: people with extra-sensory abilities and society's reactions to those, government structure, familial structure, etc. You can discuss story genre - this one has elements of mystery, possible science fiction, realistic fiction, and adventure. The possibilities are too numerous to mention, and the book is too fantastic not to find a way to include it in your teaching this year and every year. And of course, it is a gripping story - one you may have trouble prying from their fingers. (And, isn't that a good thing?)

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
First Light is just the thing to spice up a so-so day, or entice a reluctant reader to keep asking, "Just one more page? Please?" And you will enjoy it as much as your kiddos. It is full of mystery, drama, and adventure. It is brimming with themes of courage, family, trust, determination, and facing your fears. It shows the true power kids can and do have to affect change. And it is one great story. What more could you ask for?

For the Kids:
If somebody told you that you had the chance to skip school for a few weeks, drive dogsleds, live in a giant blue tent, explore a glacier in Greenland, and have adventures, would you turn it down? Of course not! And neither did Peter, in the book First Light. And while he's there, he's hoping to discover what's really going on with these headaches his mom has, the headaches he's started to have, and the strange visions he's begun having. Meanwhile, deep below him in the glacier, Thea is trying to convince her grandmother and her whole world that they need to reach the surface to save themselves. But they seem reluctant, so she's hoping to find out why. And she's hoping to finally be able to see the sun - something she's only heard and read about, but never seen.

One day, Peter goes exploring on his own on the glacier, and finds a bright red ring, embedded deep in the ice. And Thea goes exploring in her world and makes a huge discovery. Will Peter's and Thea's paths ever intersect? Guess you should read the book, and find out, huh?

For Everyone Else:
First Light is a fascinating story, all wrapped up in journeys of courage, journeys of adventure, journeys of discovery, and journeys of mystery that adults will enjoy as much as the kids. You'll find yourself impatient to turn each page and find out what happens next, and the story is so masterfully told that you won't see the plot twists coming. And you'll be delighted with each new discovery.

Wrapping Up:
First Light is a gem of a book - one you'll want to have on your own personal bookshelf, so you can return to it again and again.

Title: First Light
Author: Rebecca Stead
Cover Art: Ericka O'Rourke
Pages: 328
Reading Level: 5.6 (Ages 10-14)
Publisher and Date: Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, October 2008
Edition: Paperback, First Yearling Edition
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $6.99


  1. Just an FYI there is a typo in this review, the book is not First Look but First LIGHT. This small typo may confuse others so, if you can, please fix it.

  2. Thank you, Julia. I am embarrassed that I didn't notice such a glaring error.

  3. this is very helpful thanks

  4. Anonymous, you're very welcome. I'm glad you found it useful.

  5. Hi, Kim,
    I came across your review while researching Young Adult fiction with environmental themes. It looks like this one fits the description - do you have any others??
    Reading about "First Light", I was struck by parallels between it and Catherine McDonald's "The Lake at the End of the World" (1988), which is set in 2025 when catastrophic collapse of the biosphere compounded by the spread of virulent illnesses has reduced humanity to a few survivors. We meet a teenage girl and her parents on a self-sufficient farm beside a lake, and a teenage boy and his survivalist community which has been isolated in nearby caves since before the collapse; both groups think themselves alone until the boy follows his dog to the surface and meets the girl.

  6. Hi, Malcom, and thanks for visiting. In YA books, you might try Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen. The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau is the first in a middle grade series that has somewhat of an environmental bent, though it is not the main theme, if you should wish to expand you search from YA titles. And for a further stretch, try the picture book The Wump World, by Bill Peet. You can find reviews of each of these books by going to the My Reviews page (see left sidebar) and clicking the titles.

    Good luck in your search!



So, what's on your mind?