Book Review – The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

How much would you do for someone you love? What would you sacrifice? Where is the line between right and wrong? What does it mean to be a parent?

These are all questions that The Light Between Oceans (Scribner, 2012) forces the reader to ponder. We all want to believe that we know right from wrong. That, when the moment comes, we will do right. But what about when that line isn’t so clear?

Tom Sherbourne is attempting to escape the horrors of his four years spent in the army during the Great War. He takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, located at the tip of Australia. He loves the island and he loves his light. Despite his own expectations, he falls in love with Isabel too and he brings her back to the remote island. They’re deeply in love, creating a whole world for just the two of them on their rock. But after two miscarriages and a stillborn baby, their life is not what they thought it would become. And then a boat washes onshore. A boat carrying a crying baby girl and a dead man.

Tom and Isabel make a decision that will change their own lives and the lives of everyone around them.

Stedman does a masterful job of creating a place both wild and beautiful in Janus Island. We never forget how disconnected Tom and Isabel are from the rest of the world – every three months a supply boat visits but their trips to the mainland are years apart. This was a wise decision because it allows the reader to buy more fully into their states of mind and their subsequent decisions. Just as compellingly, Stedman makes Janus Island a place you might actually want to live. Tom and Isabel create an idyllic life there. One that, as we learn, cannot be sustained anywhere else.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that The Light Between Oceans made me cry. And I’m not someone who cries over a lot of books. The characters felt real, the location felt real, but beyond that, Stedman created a real situation. Maybe not a realistic one, but she created a family who truly loved each other, who were faced with an impossible choice. And what do you do when no happy ending is possible?

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