Audiobook Review: A SUDDEN LIGHT by Garth Stein

Format: Audio; 11 hrs, 34 mins
Narrator: Seth Numrich
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Released: September 30, 2014
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Rating: ★★★★½

When a boy tries to save his parents’ marriage, he uncovers a legacy of family secrets in a coming-of-age ghost story by the author of the internationally best-selling phenomenon The Art of Racing in the Rain.

In the summer of 1990, 14-year-old Trevor Riddell gets his first glimpse of Riddell House. Built from the spoils of a massive timber fortune, the legendary family mansion is constructed of giant, whole trees, and is set on a huge estate overlooking Puget Sound. Trevor’s bankrupt parents have begun a trial separation, and his father, Jones Riddell, has brought Trevor to Riddell House with a goal: to join forces with his sister, Serena, dispatch Grandpa Samuel – who is flickering in and out of dementia – to a graduated living facility, sell off the house and property for development into “tract housing for millionaires”, divide up the profits, and live happily ever after.

But Trevor soon discovers there’s someone else living in Riddell House: a ghost with an agenda of his own. For while the land holds tremendous value, it is also burdened by the final wishes of the family patriarch, Elijah, who mandated it be allowed to return to untamed forestland as a penance for the millions of trees harvested over the decades by the Riddell Timber company. The ghost will not rest until Elijah’s wish is fulfilled, and Trevor’s willingness to face the past holds the key to his family’s future.

A Sudden Light is a rich, atmospheric work that is at once a multigenerational family saga, a historical novel, a ghost story, and the story of a contemporary family’s struggle to connect with each other. A tribute to the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, it reflects Garth Stein’s outsized capacity for empathy and keen understanding of human motivation, and his rare ability to see the unseen: the universal threads that connect us all.

A SUDDEN LIGHT is an engrossing Gothic novel set in the Pacific Northwest in 1990. When his parents separate, 14-year old Trevor Riddell travels with his father to Riddell House, a once glorious estate built with the family’s timber fortune. What he finds there, well…

I don’t know why, but this is a difficult book for me to review. I loved it. How’s that? A SUDDEN LIGHT is very much a strong character-driven novel, but at the same time the story is multi-layered and complex. Many issues are dealt with – family secrets, illness, guilt, grief, environmentalism, restless ghosts, and more that I don’t want to spoil for readers. The young protagonist, Trevor, was a compelling character who speaks as though he’s wise beyond his years, but you find out why at the end.

The language in this book was gorgeous and descriptive. I could easily picture the crumbling Riddell mansion (a character itself) and the majestic forest surrounding it. I really enjoyed listening to this on audiobook. Narrator Seth Numrich did a great job with the many different characters, each one sounding distinct. When he did the voice of Trevor’s father, he sounded a bit like Keanu Reeves, which I liked. ;-)

I’d definitely recommend A SUDDEN LIGHT to readers who enjoy family sagas, ghosts, and coming of age stories.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.