It’s spring at NCPR and time to bring a group of high school students into the studio to talk about a book. This year we’re discussing Anthony Doerr’s popular new novel, All the Light We Cannot See, a WWII story set in Germany and France.
All the Light We Cannot See is marketed as an adult book although both the main characters are teenagers who age and grow. When I first met with the high school kids I asked them if they thought Doerr’s new novel was actually a Young Adult novel in disguise. Hmm… is that a belittling statement for a 530-page book filled with drama and intrigue and carnage and honor? We didn’t come to any grand conclusion on this.
What we have discovered is that All the Light is an intriguing read for teens, that the young characters are well-drawn, and we cared for them enough to worry what would happen as the war drew to a close. The German boy, Werner, desperately wants to become a scientist in the Nazi ranks and as he ages he makes decisions that are not always honorable. We wondered if each of us would have had the strength to say no to the cruelty and terror Werner found as he trained to fight. Peer pressure and brutal retaliation kept most of the German boys quiet about the injustices, or active participants in them.
And we wondered, is it more compelling to read historical fiction about a time and a place we have studied or is it better to know nothing at all about the location and outcome of the story? We know who won WWII but the suspense in the story partly revolves around the characters staying alive long enough to witness the end. A story that is part of the giant history of WWII contains much unwritten information that readers already know.
Have you read this novel? Did the teen characters appeal to you? Some of the students found the sub-plot about a “cursed” diamond a great part of the forward arc of this story. Some of us found that part of the book distracting and a little silly.
We will record our last book discussion on Monday, April 27 at the NCPR studios. It won’t be live, but we’d love to know what you thought of this epic of a novel. And maybe you have a question or two for our young readers. Leave a comment and we’ll include you in the conversation.