Book: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of several bestsellers including The Deep End of the Ocean, one of Oprah’s first Book Club picks.
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Romance
Publisher Summary: Allie Kim suffers from Xeroderma Pigmentosum: a fatal allergy to sunlight that confines her and her two best friends, Rob and Juliet, to the night. When freewheeling Juliet takes up Parkour—the stunt-sport of scaling and leaping off tall buildings—Allie and Rob have no choice but to join her, if only to protect her. Though potentially deadly, Parkour after dark makes Allie feel truly alive, and for the first time equal to the “daytimers.”
On a random summer night, the trio catches a glimpse of what appears to be murder. Allie alone takes it upon herself to investigate, and the truth comes at an unthinkable price. Navigating the shadowy world of specialized XP care, extreme sports, and forbidden love, Allie ultimately uncovers a secret that upends everything she believes about the people she trusts the most.
Read It If You’re Looking For: A novel that has it all: romance, suspense and more.
I spent most of my time reading What We Saw At Night thoroughly confused, which normally frustrates me but for some reason, this time, didn’t. Right off the bat, it’s difficult to even understand who the main character is, why they’re out all hours of the night. Slowly, the personalities are revealed and Mitchard’s pacing draws you in so you can’t help but keep reading to figure out what’s going to happen to these characters. A warning though: there are many different genres thrown together here (romance, thriller, mystery, mistaken identities, extreme sports), almost as if Mitchard had several different ideas that could have been separate books that she instead threw into this one. You may like some of the genres and not others but as long as you keep reading, your favorite parts will come back. A final warning: there is an excerpt for the sequel at the end. Don’t read it, it spoils the illusion that the end of the first book leaves you with.
Read Also: If you’re interested in reading stories about teenagers that have a different or unique illness or who are just slightly different than their friends, I would recommend The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Green gets right to the heart of the characters and their illness, letting you focus on their personalities, struggles and relationships without too much distracting you.
Irene Adler Bio
I absorbed this book much in the way that I get drawn into (and inevitably finish) sub-par, made-for-TV movies, events that hold my attention mostly for reasons of inertia and desires to disengage mentally.
In one of the few self-reflexive moments in the novel, Juliet, one of the three protagonists, is described as “a wannabe vampire.” This description could aptly characterize the entire text—“a wannabe vampire” novel that plays to the fascination with other-worldly, super humans who inhabit the night through the guise of relating the story of three teens with xeroderma pigmentosa (xp), who as a result of this rare genetic disorder must avoid any exposure to sunlight and spend their nights adventuring throughout their small town while the “day-timers” sleep.
Aside from showing how these youth, their parents, and several of the townspeople all grieve in their own way about how having xp greatly increases the likelihood that the teens will die prematurely, the depiction of Juliet, Allie, and Rob having xp mainly functions as an elaborate pretext for why they are out at night and are able to witness the aftermath of what appears to have been a murder. The larger perspective into the disease is generally cheapened by the author’s attempts to make it secondary to the thickening murder plot. A Wikipedia search would have been a more effective teacher.
Moreover, the action is skittish, the dialogue unfolds on about a fourth-grade reading level, even the primary characters are not very well developed, and the treatment of love and sex between the characters is more laughable than meaningful. I had to suppress a long eye roll when Allie, the xp teen with aspirations of studying criminal justice, first gets together with Rob, her long-time crush whom she describes as someone who could have ruled the school were it not for his disease. She tells Rob simply, “For you, right here, right now.” Long live Stephenie Meyer.
I promise that I am not generally dismissive toward all young-adult fiction and admit that withstanding all of my snide commentary I read this book somewhat willingly. If you can get past the desire to read the text with a red pen in hand, it may make for some easy, mind-numbing company on a slow night.
I ended up liking this book quite a bit. It reminded me of a more gentle version of my beloved Christopher Pike books from childhood.
I was worried initially that it would sort of had a vamipire-y vibe because these kids couldn’t go out during the day, but I was pleased that it ended up being nothing of the sort. I enjoyed the young love story and the with-it mom who was realistic about her daughter. I enjoyed Allie’s voice and how she found her inner strength and smarts when her friends were gone for the bit. The mystery itself left a little to be desired. That portion of the plot opened as I expected it would and the “twists” weren’t all that interesting.
Over all, it was a little trite, I could see the twists coming, but I read a lot of mystery books. At the end, I was left wondering what happened next though, and I don’t like a story that’s not wrapped up. Sequel maybe?
I felt that What We Saw at Night was a very solid, innovative YA suspense thriller. When I first read the description that the main characters were forced to be nocturnal because of a genetic disease that causes them to be deathly allergic to the sun, I was immediately worried this would be some Twilight-knockoff paranormal romance. Thankfully, it is not. Instead, it is a refreshing take on the teen outsider angst tale, propelled by a satisfyingly creepy and gripping suspense plot.
The main character and her two best friends have a realistic and complicated relationship, played out in the nighttime shadows of a quiet, forgotten town in the tradition of TWIN PEAKS (without the supernatural stuff). To help them deal with the ever-present threat of their mortality, the friends choose seek adventure and live as fully as they can, most notably through their training and practicing of Parkour. The descriptions of their “tracing” can be a bit overdone, but for the most part, this practice is an interesting way for the characters to deal with their emotions and also a way to always keep them in the threat of danger. Most importantly, it’s how they come to see “what they saw at night.”
The author keeps the reader engaged and the feeling of danger ever present. The reality of that danger does not disappoint, though I was surprised to see that this is the first in a series, when it perhaps could have been wrapped up in a single book. The book seemed poised to come to an end, so the extension to a series made the ending of this book fall a little flat. I suppose I’ll have to read the next one to see how the author keeps the momentum going! I would definitely recommend this book if you enjoy YA, mystery, thrillers, suspense and maybe wanted to know a bit more about Parkour.
Thanks to Soho Teen for providing our readers with access to What We Saw at Night. You can find the newly launched Soho Teen on Facebook, on Twitter and on their website. You can find author Jacquelyn Mitchard on Twitter and on her website.