By Light We Knew Our Names- Anne Valente
Final Thoughts: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is yet another gem sent to me by the absolutely amazing people at Dzanc Books! If you can’t tell by now, they have some truly tremendous selections of literature over there.
By Light We Knew Our Names is a collection of thirteen short stories, all of which are stuffed to the brim with magical wonder, youthful curiosity, and strange occurrences. I’ve included a summary of the stories below, in case you want a spoiler-free sneak peak into the book!
Anne Valente has an enigmatic voice reminiscent of some of the other authors I’ve reviewed from Dzanc (Emily Geminder, Lindsay Drager, Jac Jemc, etc.), but what pushes this book to a five-star read for me is its ability to tell stories.
Valente’s tales are weird and wonderful. They’re mysterious and open for interpretation, but: they aren’t vague. They aren’t open-ended or non-linear. They don’t end unresolved just for the sake of being edgy and thought-provoking. Her stories are real, complete stories that are thought-provoking, edgy, and mysterious all without trying too hard, and I love them for that. They are inventive and imaginative and unique and playful and heartfelt and full of depth and emotion. By Light We Knew Our Names is the short story collection I’ve been waiting for, narrated by an author who’s voice is in perfect balance with her plots.
- Latchkey: a young girl receives a birthday present, but refuses to open it. After school, she goes with several other children to a babysitter while her parents work. Several of the children exhibit strange powers that they only perform when their adult caretaker is out of sight. They encourage her to open her birthday gift, and when she finally does, she is surprised to find that she has her own special gift as well.
- Dear Amelia: a group of young girls follow the journeys of Amelia Earhart. As they grow into their teenage years, they feel an intense connection between the pilot’s path and their own, but as their mothers warn of impending war, they are pulled away from their futures to hibernate until the conflict passes. Plot twist: their mothers are a pack of were-bears.
- To a Place Where We Take Flight: a young boy forms a rock band and plans to perform at a hospital. While his friend dreams of fame and getting girls, he dreams that his music will be able to save his mother from cancer.
- Terrible Angels: a girl tries to study for her impending high school exams while her grandparents haunt her daily life.
- A Taste of Tea: a young boy watches as his recently divorced mother develops a strange habit. She compulsively orders mountains of tea leaves delivered to their front lawn, and promptly basks in a lawn chair next to the rotating piles of tea. Her son doesn’t understand her way of dealing with her grief, and begs for explanation.
- Everything That Was Ours: a pack of teenage boys visit the World Fair, where they see plenty of promises of an amazing, technological future.
- By Light We Knew Our Names: a troupe of girls meets in the forest of an Alaskan town. Bound by their shared experiences of abuse, assault, and trauma at the hands of brothers, fathers, and lovers, they kindle their anger and plot their vengeance.
- If Everything Fell Silent, Even Sirens: a couple with a baby on the way is experiencing conflict: the woman has hit the man during an argument, and as they desperately seek ways to move on from the incident, their environment is riddled with the strange, blaring noises of siren.
- A Very Compassionate Baby: parents find that their newborn is overly compassionate. He cries and wails constantly at any minuscule sign of loss. The crying only stops when he discovers a small friend living on a flower in the backyard. The father attempts to explain his son’s strange obsession with this flower, while maintaining the peace of a non-crying baby.
- Minivan: a couple tries to adapt to life after she is pulled off of the sidewalk into a minivan and assaulted.
- Not Ghosts or Daffodils: after a mother leaves her family behind for a new life, the father tries to move his daughter through her recovery. She makes friends with an invisible ghost, and finds connection in a lost albino dolphin that washes up on a beach near her school.
- Until Our Shadows Claim Us: schoolchildren deal with the permanent consequences of a playground game when they summon a rumored phantom into the real world.
- Mollusk, Membrane, Human Heart: a scientist is pulled in different directions when his employer begins conducting cruel experiments on a family of baby octopi.