The Rise of Light

- Olivia Hawker

Goodreads Book Blurb:

1975. In the town of Rexburg, Idaho, aspiring artist Aran Rigby, his younger sister, Tamsin, and their two brothers are locked in orbit around their emotionally abusive father. Gad is the kind of man who soothes the failures of his own life by controlling the lives of others. But Aran and Tamsin are united in rebellion against their father. They understand each other. They have dreams beyond their small town.

Arriving in Rexburg is Linda Duff, an outsider from Seattle hoping to plant new roots far from the bitter ones of her childhood. She’s quickly taken with Aran, in no small part because of his talent. But when they fall in love, Linda is drawn into a family more damaged than the one she left behind. She also becomes privy to a secret Aran and Tamsin share that could dismantle everything everyone holds dear.

Upsetting the precarious balance in the Rigby home, Linda becomes an unwitting catalyst for the upheaval of Gad’s oppression. Now it’s time for them all to break free of the past, overcome the unforgivable, and find a new way forward—whatever the price.


My Review:

***Thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for an eARC of this book. The following review is my honest reflection on the text provided.
solid, good read:
The Rise of Light is excellent for many reasons, but I especially appreciated the exploration of the inherent misogyny, abuse, and restrictions within Mormonism. Several storylines allow for a deep exploration of this and many other topics from different perspectives.

I found myself horrified several times by the use of religion to enable men to exert their control over not only their own families but the women who dare to act even slightly unexpectedly. And ‘unexpectedly’ is anything that isn’t 100% subservient, demure, or apologetic, as is evident in Gad’s interactions with his wife, daughter, and Linda before he even knows her. She is a stranger on the street, and he treats her with contempt solely because she doesn’t immediately submit to his obvious male privilege and dominance.

That was why her father feared and hated worldly things. Tamsin understood it all now. The world was much bigger than Rexburg. The world was nothing any man could control.

Gad is the head of the household, a prominent leader within the church, and riddled with issues. Some of these are generational, thanks to the abuse and ideals forced on him by his father. To smother his feelings and misgivings, he holds a tight, demanding control over his entire family. But, unfortunately, with human nature being what it is, it’s only a matter of time before this control slips and everything starts to fall apart.

The Gad-Aran storyline was difficult to read because of the continuation of this generational abuse. Gad attempts to control how Aran spends his time by forcing him to work in the family business and abandon any dreams unrelated to the family or church. He tries to tell him first who he should be dating and then who he most definitely should not be dating once Linda enters the picture. It ramps up even further when he discovers Aran is finding success as a painter. Instead of being proud that Aran found a way to follow the dream Gad’s father forced him to abandon, Gad becomes vindictive. He twists his beliefs to allow himself the ability to take revenge without guilt – instead, he feels it is his responsibility, maybe even his calling, to knock Aran down a peg and teach him a lesson. What makes this even more terrible is that while Gad is sure in his convictions, Aran spends the entire book worried that he is being tempted away from the ‘truth’ thanks to years of brainwashing.

Linda’s story was very relatable. She’s searching for a sense of family she’s never felt, willing to go to extreme lengths to find it. She leaps into the unknown to find what she is looking for, and I found her incredibly strong and brave. Because even while she is willing to do a lot to create her own sense of family, she still has a strong sense of morality and doesn’t give in to the brainwashing attempts by those around her. She’s able to recognise something good in Aran, and she finds a way to make things work, even when confronted by the absolute craziness of Gad and the control he attempts (mostly successfully) to exert over his family.

That was the funny part, the strange part: how they both just stayed. As if they expected that something would be different this month, this Sunday, this any-day-of-the-week. Nothing was ever different. Not here

The most heartbreaking storyline is certainly Tamsin’s. There is so little hope here at all times. She’s the most intelligent person in this story, the most certain in her own beliefs. Where Aran questions the church and Gad’s rules, Tamsin openly denies and defies them. Unfortunately, her age and her gender work severely against her ability to escape. Tamsin has the most basic dream to leave home and go to college. While this is almost a given for most teenagers in the United States, she knows that her father will never let her go.

Amen, the congregation answered - even Tamsin. There were no bars on the cage, but a good girl always stayed.

I highly recommend The Rise of Light – what appears to be straightforward at first develops nuance and takes many directions I was not expecting. It stays true to human nature and its unpredictability while delving into religion, abuse, and complicated family dynamics. I felt immersed in this community, sometimes to a terrifying degree, and while the narrative did feel like it dragged on at times, it painted a vivid picture (no pun intended).

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