Trick of the Light

Trick of the Light

"Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you when you think everything's okay and everything's going right. 
And life has a funny way of helping you out when you think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up in your face." 
-- Alanis Morissette, who struggled with eating disorders during her adolescence and beyond. 

"Mike: 'Things have been kind of weird at home.' 
"Tamio: 'Yeah? How so?' 
"Don't." Mike stops walking. 
"Tamio: 'What's the matter?' 
Mike stares ahead blankly. 
"Tamio: 'Are you all right?' 
"Mike is thinking about how he just heard a voice in his head. A whisper of a voice, but definitely a voice. 
"Tamio: 'What do you mean, things are weird at home?' 
"Don't talk about it. 
"Mike still can't move, stuck in the stinky tunnel. He thinks, Am I crazy? 
"Tamio: 'Hey, what's going on?' 
"Mike: [nothing] 
"Tamio: 'Dude, say something.' 
"Mike: 'It's nothing.' 
"Mike knows something's wrong but doesn't know where to turn. He thinks things are bad and can only get worse. He has no idea what achievements are within his reach, what rewards await him, how much better his life is going to be. 
"Infinitely better." 
That is the first time that the voice has reached Mike Welles. The voice also narrates this story. The story is from the viewpoint of the voice, that voice that has just appeared in Mike's head. 
"The cat throws up a lot. It's disgusting, the way Mighty Joe Young walks backward while he's doing it. Tamio once said, 'He looks like a movie of a cat eating, on rewind.' Mike laughed, but there's nothing amusing about the fact that he has to clean up cat vomit all the time. 
"Mike: 'Mom, I already cleaned up after him twice today.' 
"Mom: 'But...could you, again? I can't.' 
"Mike: 'Fine.' 
"Look at yourself -- running errands, doing laundry, cleaning up cat vomit. Is this the person you are meant to be? 
"Mike thinks the voice in his head must hate him. But I don't. I'm the best thing that ever happened to him." 
Mike first hears the voice when things are, indeed, kind of weird at home. 
Pretty intense, actually. His mother is falling apart. Shortly thereafter, his father will move out to go be with the twenty-four year-old he's met at the gym. And then Mike looks in a mirror and doesn't even recognize himself because he perceives that he's become grossly overweight. 
But the voice is here to rescue Mike from all of this. The voice persuades Mike to ditch his friendship with Tamio and, instead, hang out with Amber, an odd and thin girl he's known since kindergarten. It turns out that Amber is a walking food and nutrition encyclopedia, with the knowledge of how Mike can steadily shed all of those unwanted pounds. Mike develops an all-consuming practice for himself that includes a radical altering his diet, lots of running, and constantly working out. He moves toward being a whole new, trimmer physical self. 
As Mike loses more and more weight, the voice and Amber are always there to provide deceptive strategies for dealing with those who threaten to interfere with his shedding of pounds, and as Mike's health begins to really head south, we come to recognize the seductiveness of that voice, we come to recognize that the voice might not be the best thing that's ever happened to him, and we come to recognize what a brilliant and powerful piece of writing A TRICK OF THE LIGHT is. 

208 pages   978-0-06-213308-X   Ages 13 and up

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

Editor's Note:  Read alikes... STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES by Chris Crutcher, WiNTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson, VANISHING by Bruce Brooks


Stunning, heart-wrenching, and painful, yet uplifting and hopeful, A Trick of the Light is an important book for teens. Mike Welles is an intelligent teen who loves stop-action cinema and classics like the original 1933 King Kong film; he and friend Tamio spend hours discussing cinema and playing video games. Things at home are...sad and different. Suddenly, there's a wedge between his family.

As Mike's mom falls into despair and depression, sleeping all day and not working, Mike's dad strays from the household. Mike begins to hear a voice in his head that controls him. To control his situation at home, Mike listens to the voice and turns to Amber. She knows everything about food and what foods to avoid--Mike stops eating and begins to run for miles, the voice grows stronger--urging him to stay strong and lose weight. The voice controls Mike, but he's getting weaker.

People begin to notice. Mike has a fight with Tamio and won't return his phone calls. Mike's mom and dad both think he's losing too much weight. Mike resorts to tricks to keep them off his back. He's hiding his food intake and weighing himself with extra weight in his pockets.

Told from the male point of view, A Trick of the Light addresses negative body image and weight issues for boys. Recommended for readers who liked  Halse's Wintergirls.

Recommended grade 7-up. Amazon and the publisher says for readers 14-up, but it has no profanity and no mature content other than eating/purging/ anorexia discussion.

Recommended by:  Pamela Thompson, MLIS, Librarian, Texas USA

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