Nicole Lesperance blends crystalline prose, an atmospheric setting and memorable characters to create a story that dances and shines as brightly as the northern lights in her debut YA novel, The Wide Starlight.
Eli has always known her life should have been different. She should have grown up in the frozen landscape of Svalbard, a group of islands north of Norway, where she was born. She would speak Norwegian and her mother’s family would call her by her full name, Eline. Instead, she lives with her American father on Cape Cod, where everyone calls her Eli and she has lost all familiarity with the language she once called her own. The biggest difference, however, and the loss Eli feels most acutely, is her mother’s absence. Ever since the night she carried 6-year-old Eli out onto a frozen fjord, whistled at the multicolored aurora in the sky and flew away, Eli has felt a gaping hole where her mother should be.
So when her mother suddenly reappears, Eli is overwhelmed and unsure how she should act or feel. Then weird, inexplicable occurrences begin to happen all around town that may be linked to her mother’s return, and before Eli can begin to piece together what’s going on, her mother vanishes again. Desperate for answers, Eli journeys to Svalbard, but more than family secrets may be waiting for her under the ice.
Lesperance’s story has a breathtakingly frosty atmosphere that’s anchored by her descriptions of the icy world of Eli’s childhood, which is both enchanting and unforgivingly harsh. The author just as vividly evokes the ostensibly mundane contemporary setting of Cape Cod, immersing readers in a seaside landscape dotted with scrubby pine forests. When Eli travels to Norway, readers will practically feel the bitter sting of the frigid air, hear the crunch of packed snow underfoot and see the brilliant gleam of sunlight reflecting off the ice.
Both locations are perfect choices for a story imbued with magic and wonder. Yet for all its trappings of snow-swept fantasy, what lies at the glowing core of The Wide Starlight is the deep and sacred bond between mother and daughter, as Lesperance explores the lengths to which that bond can stretch and still remain intact.