Courting Light by A Zukowski is a bitter sweet, coming of age novella that I found to be poignant and moving. I was attracted to the story because I am always looking for books that feature characters who are neurodiverse and I am so happy that this title came my way.
Josie is an eighteen-year-old about to start university. She decides to take two weeks out of her summer to volunteer as a “carer” at a summer camp for children with various types of disabilities. She is paired with a fifteen-year-old boy named Lucian who has autism. He opens up a world for her that she never really knew existed. He has her noticing things that she always took for granted.
Lucian is not the only one who has Josie noticing things for the first time. Sam is the charismatic camp leader. With her shaved head, tattoo and worldly attitude, she has Josie completely captivated. Josie has also recently realized that she is a lesbian and Sam has her yearning for things she has never felt before.
Josie is just beginning her life as an adult. Will these two weeks at camp become just a fond memory or will they leave a lasting impression that will continue to shape Josie for years to come?
Zukowski did a great job with all the characters. Josie, Sam and Lucian are all authentically portrayed. None of them felt like stereotypical personalities there to fulfill a role. Although the romance portion of this story is between Josie and Sam, Lucian’s role in relation to Josie is equally as significant.
Josie is delightfully naïve. She is a very young eighteen-year-old. She is ready for her adult life to begin, but she’s not sure how or when that’s actually going to take place. She believes that going to university will be what kickstarts her life, so it is very interesting to see her challenged over and over again while she is at camp. She approaches each encounter with Lucian with an innocence that is beguiling. She surprises even herself with her bold attempts to get Sam to notice her and she really steps it up when she decides to try and seduce the enigmatic camp leader.
Sam is that ideal butch that many young women just discovering their sexuality would be attracted to. She is bold, independent, a bit of a philosopher and completely composed as the camp supervisor. Sam never misses a beat when the structure of the camp day is thrown off by a camper’s crisis and she always seems to have all the answers. She is ten years older than Josie and knows that Josie should be off limits, but she is drawn to Josie’s candid curiosity about life and love.
Lucian is the real heart and soul of this story for me. While his Autism sets him apart from typical teenagers his age, it also provides the lens that allows Josie to grow and redefine who she is. I loved that Lucian wasn’t used as a catalyst to bring Josie and Sam together. He is a fully realized character. Lucian is aware that to many he seems defective, which is heartbreaking, but he soldiers on and continues to surprise everyone who comes into contact with him. He has his own victories over the course of the two weeks and for him there is no such thing as a small victory.
The Writing Style
The story is told in the first person from Josie’s point of view, but every so often Zukowski slips in Josie’s observations that are clearly being made decades after the two weeks of camp. I liked that I was hearing the story from both the young and naïve Josie and the Jo who is wiser and more sophisticated. It added to the character development and kept the story from becoming overly sentimental.
I am not sure what kind of real life experience Ms. Zukowski has, but after reading this novella, I would swear that her day job is working with children with disabilities. The authenticity of Lucian’s dialogue, moods, and actions are remarkable. God bless her for not turning Lucian into a one-dimensional caricature.
This novella is full of great side characters. There are insights into why some of the other carers are volunteering at the camp and there are insights as to why some families send their children to camp for the two weeks. I also appreciated reading about how activities, meals, and sleeping arrangements were made to accommodate each unique child.
It needs to be said that this romance does not come with a happily ever after. I know, I know! That’s going to keep some of you from investing your time in this novella. Having said that, this story has too many good things going for it to just dismiss it.
This really isn’t a con, but Courting Light is part of the anthology, Seasons of Love: A Beaten Track Anthology. There are ten novellas included, but you don’t have to buy the entire anthology to read and enjoy this novella.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Because I work with children and adults with developmental disabilities, this story truly spoke to my heart. The scenes between Josie and Lucian are so touching that I had to keep tissues on hand while I was reading.
I also loved how this book captures the unique essence of your first love. Every discovery Josie makes is magical. The stars seem brighter and the flowers smell sweeter.
There is a certain nostalgic component to this novella that got me thinking about my first love and how that experience shaped the woman I am today. I think that we are the sum of all our experiences and reading Courting Light was a nice reminder that the sorrows of my youth have perhaps made me a more resilient woman today.
Excerpt from Courting Light by A Zukowski
I moved towards the last boy standing. He still held onto his bag tightly with his eyes downcast, avoiding my gaze.
“I’m Josie. What’s your name?”
I extended my hand to shake his while I tried to read his name label and saw that he’d written his name in rather small letters in the left-hand corner of the white rectangle. The handwriting was neat and controlled but I couldn’t read it. Except the ‘L’.
My offered hand remained untouched.
“What’s your name?” he replied without meeting my eyes or returning my handshake. His speech was clear. Words pronounced in imitation of my accent.
I hesitantly moved closer and was now near enough to see his name: Lucian. The letters were drawn in a tight script that broke the white surface.
I didn’t know what might be considered wrong about him by society, buy my instinct told me we’d be fine. That we’d make this work. “Would you like to pair up with me, Lucian?”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781786452542
- Publisher: Beaten Track Publishing
A Zukowski Online
- Website www.azukowskiblog.wordpress.com
- Twitter http://twitter.com/saszazukowski
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Giraffe People by Jill Malone
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