Flashback Fridays: Go Into the light . . .

You’re a ten year old boy in the early 1900s whose family just encountered a strangely feral boy with no clothes who just appeared out of nowhere.  The boy learns quickly how to be civilized and speak, until he’s simply one of the family–but the mystery of where he comes and why will remain with you . . .

Do you remember:

Born Into Light by Paul Samuel Jacobs (Scholastic Point, c1988)

From a vantage point of many, many years later, Roger Westwood recounts the events of a fateful day a wild boy shows up at their homestead.  Naked and feral, he nevertheless allows Roger’s sister to help him.  In a short time he is learning–or remembering–how to speak and learning the basics of civilization.  There’s no question that the Westwood family will take the poor boy in.  But the mysteries surrounding him, including the mysterious metal that falls to dust from a burned circle in the woods, do not vanish.  The boy is only one of many wild children found that year of shooting stars.  Some of them die early on, but many manage to live on with families. These children are startlingly strong, but fragile in many ways–and they tire quickly.  Roger’s life with his adopted brother explores the mystery and meaning of wild children and their arrival.  For they are not from earth . . . but from space.  It is a story of growth, learning and journey that will leave readers thinking and wondering at the end of the tale.

I don’t know if any of my readers are familiar with the movie The Thing that Came from Outer Space.  It sounds like a wildly awful B movie with monsters and bad special effects.  And even the original movie has a bit of that.  But it was my dad’s favorite science fiction movie, and I like it quite a bit too.  Not for the bad special effects parts, but for the dialog.  Our characters spend a lot of time talking and speculating about things–using the kind of language and wondering that is so part and parcel to science fiction, but so often gets lost in the horror or the adventure of the thing.  That movie is true speculative fiction at work, and it provides a thoughtful lens of narrative through which to view the story which immediately makes it less lurid and more soul-shaking.  This book is a bit like that.  It’s a thoughtful narrative that avoids falling into sensationalism–though this story could have been told in another way to create that.  Instead we have thoughtful explorations and reactions of our main character as he encounters these mysteries, and how they simply become a part of his life.

It starts from the perspective of a 70-year-old man recalling events that happened over his lifetime. That in itself is a highly unusual tactic for a children’s novel.  The book itself is fairly short, only 149 pages in all.  In recent times it’s hard to even find many novels for tweens and teens that run this short.  In these pages, we encounter our narrator as an old man, then jump back to him as a ten year old boy.  We follow him through his years growing up, all the way to adulthood.  And finally back to the old man he is at the beginning.  The story is full of family connections, small discoveries and gradual understanding.  We see it all through the eyes of the narrator as he grows up–so readers are not given all the speculations at once.  It’s the kind of book that speaks about science fiction on a different level.  Yes, this is aliens come to earth–but you hardly realize that in the course of the story.  It’s about something much more significant.  It’s about hope.  Hope for the future and a hope that reaches beyond us and our own lives, a hope that dreams of what one day may be–and being a small part of that.

A small spoiler here from a quote from the last pages, to give you a taste of the reflection. “They are probably traveling still, my niece and nephews, away from the sun, the star that briefly warmed them, past Vega, which guides them,  and toward their distant home.  Katarina and Chaz and Bobby and the others are on their journey.  They are carrying a small piece of us forward to another place and another time in the history of the universe.”

I finished a re-read on this with the mixed feeling that this is really science fiction for adults as well as teens and tweens.  This is  a SF story that has as much relevance for us as adults–or perhaps more.  At the same time, it is not inappropriate for teens or tweens, and it’s incredibly thought provoking.  It’s the kind of book to promote questions and ideas and arguments.  The kind of story that gives us the quieter side of science fiction–one that is no less significant for its quiet.

Paul  Samuel Jacob wrote one other science fiction story for young people, this one called Sleepers, Wake (Scholastic, 1991) that chronicles a young boy’s life when he wakes too early from suspended animation aboard a ship.

Other than this, the author published a historical fiction novel in 1997, but that’s the only information I could find.  I was unable to uncover further information about the author or why he only wrote these three books in his lifetime.

Born into Light may be an obscure bit of Science Fiction, but it is also one of the speculative fiction novels from the 1980s that could be reprinted to day without suffering tremendously from how the modern era has changed in the last few decades.  This is one of those books that’s admittedly hard to find, but certainly worth a read if you come across it!

Comments Welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on February 2, 2016, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I love Interlibrary Loan! Your review made me think I’d really enjoy this book, and lo and behold there’s a copy of it somewhere in British Columbia (I didn’t even recognize the name of the town). They’re going to send it to my local library. All for free. (Have I mentioned that libraries are the pinnacle of human achievement?)

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