Review Blog

Apr 12 2012

The light between oceans by M. L Stedman

cover image

Vintage Books, 2012. ISBN 9781742755700.
Tom Sherbourne is a young, decorated soldier just returned from the horrors of the Western Front of World War 1, horrified by the things he has seen and done, and guilty because he has survived relatively whole when so many have not. He seeks refuge by becoming a lighthouse keeper on some of Australia's most remote lighthouses, which, in those days were not automated as they are now. In a tiny town in remote south-western Australia, he meets and marries the love of his life and they live a cocooned life on a tiny island 100 miles offshore, their days only interrupted by the once-every-three-months visit of the supply boat. Until one day, a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant and a choice is made that changes and shapes their lives forever.
Although I don't usually review adult books, this is the most intriguing read I've had for a long time and I think it has a place on the shelves of secondary libraries for a lot of reasons. Apart from the insight it gives us into the mindset of young soldiers who went to war full of high hopes and adventure but, in reality saw and did what no person should see and do and were then eventually returned Australia and just expected 'to get on with it', it is a story of moral and ethical dilemmas which would provide engaging discussion and debate that would have every student having to examine their core values and beliefs. As the cover quote says, 'This is a story of right and wrong, and sometimes they look the same.' Every character has a solid place in this story and the question of 'What would you have done if you were them?' could be put for each one. And because of the quality of the writing, students will learn that there are seldom black-and-white answers to these sorts of big questions - there are many shades of grey to be considered and every action has a reaction, intended or not.
Beyond that, there are discussion questions available (and there are advertisements and links on that page that could become a teachable moment about cyber-safety) that could also form the basis of some broader in-depth discussions such as 'Are right and wrong absolutes, or do they change depending on your point of view? If they are not fixed points, how do you decide what's right and what's wrong, and what happens when your values differ from your neighbour's?' and 'The continent of Australia hasn't moved since 1926, but are we, as a nation closer to the centre of things - more 'stitched into the world's fabric'? Discuss isolation then and now, and its effect on the nation's psyche.' I would also add, 'Although on the surface, Tom and Isobel's isolation was physical, it is possible to be isolated while surrounded by people?' which might lead to discussion and acknowledgement of mental health issues, not only as they relate to Tom and Isobel in the mainland but also to the students themselves.
For me, this book is a keeper - which is the highest praise I can offer.
Barbara Braxton

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