A Trick of the Light


Telling a story of a rarely recognized segment of eating disorder sufferers?young men?A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger is a book for fans of the complex characters and emotional truths in Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why.

Mike Welles had everything under control. But that was before. Now things are rough at home, and they're getting confusing at school. He's losing his sense of direction, and he feels like he's a mess. Then there's a ...

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A Trick of the Light

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Telling a story of a rarely recognized segment of eating disorder sufferers—young men—A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger is a book for fans of the complex characters and emotional truths in Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls and Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why.

Mike Welles had everything under control. But that was before. Now things are rough at home, and they're getting confusing at school. He's losing his sense of direction, and he feels like he's a mess. Then there's a voice in his head. A friend, who's trying to help him get control again. More than that—the voice can guide him to become faster and stronger than he was before, to rid his life of everything that's holding him back. To figure out who he is again. If only Mike will listen.

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Editorial Reviews

James Howe
“A Trick of the Light is a masterpiece of narrative voice, riveting from beginning to end. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like it. Stunningly original and profoundly insightful, this book has touched me as a reader and inspired me as a writer.”
Richard Peck
“Mike’s world is beginning to spin out of control. But the voice in his head can tell him exactly how to “master the chaos” in this horror story wrapped in reality. A Trick of the Light deserves to stand on the same shelf as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls.”
Rita Williams-Garcia
“Lois Metzger’s deeply interior story sheds necessary light on an otherwise unspoken pain. A must-read.”
Patricia McCormick
“At its heart, A Trick of the Light is a compassionate and inventive exploration of a little-understood behavior that plagues a surprising number of young men.”
The Horn Book
“Startlingly original… Metzger’s compelling psychological drama takes on the subject of a boy with an eating disorder. The narrative voice-Mike’s eating disorder, personified-is the star of this masterfully written novel, which becomes a horror story of sorts.”
Michael Cart
“Metzger’s cautionary tale is made more powerful and dramatic by her choice of narrator: the voice in Mike’s head. Readers will be easily caught by the quandary: Will the voice prevail, or will Mike recover control of his mind-and his body-before it’s too late?”
Katie Haegele
“A unique look at mental illness [and a] powerful method of illustrating the warped thinking that characterizes an eating disorder. This unusual and moving novel addresses complicated ideas, and is ultimately a hopeful tale about coming back to life.”
Jill Ratzan
“The [narrative] voice in A Trick of the Light is manipulative and deceitful, drawing readers into Mike’s head and forcing them to decide for themselves what’s true and what’s twisted. Don’t be misled by the book’s small size: This slim volume packs a big emotional punch.”
Pamela Thompson
“Stunning, heart-wrenching, and painful, yet uplifting and hopeful, A Trick of the Light is an important book for teens. Told from the male point of view, A Trick of the Light addresses negative body image and weight issues for boys.”
Beth Kephart
“A new and important look at an issue that deserves our attention, and compassion.”
Todd Strasser
“A Trick of the Light is a marvel. It’s hard to imagine a more convincing and insightful depiction of a teenager dealing with a serious personal issue, and yet the story does so in a mysterious and unexpected way.”
Robert Crais
“A Trick of the Light should be required reading in our schools. Rendered with sensitivity and intelligence, Metzger’s beautifully drawn novel illuminates the sneaky-insidious nature of eating disorders with clarity, heart-rending honesty, and hope.”
Publishers Weekly
The story of 15-year-old Mike Welles’s descent into anorexia is narrated by the disease itself, the insidious voice inside his head preying on his every vulnerability. The voice waits patiently for an opening, which comes in the form of Mike’s parents’ marital crisis and his insecurity around a new crush, pushing Mike to exercise, coaching him to subsist on next to nothing, and encouraging a friendship with Amber, who is also anorexic. Mike drops weight, isolates himself, and yearns to be thinner, which he equates with true strength. A therapist eventually tells Mike that he has been eclipsed and, “the only real thing about you now is your eating disorder.” Metzger, in her first novel since Missing Girls (1999), lays bare this truth in an unsettling story that offers a painful and necessary account of how eating disorders affect boys, too. Metzger’s choice to cast the disease in the role of narrator forces readers inside Mike’s head, an extremely uncomfortable yet illuminating way to examine this lethal disease. Ages 14–up. Agent: Susan Cohen, Writers House. (June)
VOYA - Johanna Nation-Vallee
Mike Welles's life is spiraling out of control. His parents are getting a divorce and he is having trouble at school. He has gained weight and is beginning to feel distanced from his best friend. What is even worse is that he now has a voice in his head telling him what to do. The voice says it is Mike's friend and wants to help him regain control: by changing his diet, working out, and ridding himself of people he cannot trust. As the voice gains more and more influence in Mike's life, readers begin to wonder if it is truly a friend or not. A Trick Of The Light is full of unexpected elements that will keep readers interested. Throughout the narrative of a teenage boy undergoing a personal crisis, Metzger describes and develops several types of relationships: between friends, between children and parents, among students and teachers, and finally, between Mike and himself. It provides a thought-provoking look at how teens approach difficult problems and solve them. At the same time, the book provides a twist on Mike's situation by narrating it from the perspective of the voice in his head. This book should appeal broadly to a high school population. Both boys and girls will enjoy the story of a boy dealing with a pain that is all-too-common among teenagers and it is suitable for all ages. Reviewer: Johanna Nation-Vallee
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—This is a somewhat familiar story told in a new way: from the disease's point of view. Mike's home life is crumbling. His father has left for a much younger woman, and his mother can barely get out of bed. But the narrative voice readers hear is not that of the 14-year-old, but rather his insecurities, bitterness, and, ultimately, his anorexia. "The voice" eventually eclipses his personality. Mike befriends an anorexic girl who encourages the destructive inner voice and teaches him how to stop eating while fooling those around him. He buys himself a distorted mirror in which he appears ugly and misshapen and looks only at this image of himself. Soon enough, Mike ends up in a hospital for kids with eating disorders. He leaves restored to health, but still prey to his insecurities. Mike's stalwart friend and their mutual devotion to the art of stop-motion animation ultimately silence the voice. A chilling, straightforward novel written with depth and understanding, A Trick of the Light shows readers that they must always be vigilant about the voice they listen to-even when it is their own.—Nina Sachs, Walker Memorial Library, Westbrook, ME
Kirkus Reviews
A young stop-motion-film enthusiast's encounter with anorexia, as narrated by...his eating disorder? Readers first meet Mike through the eyes of an unidentified narrator who is following him. It gradually becomes clear that the narrator is not a person but a voice Mike sometimes hears. The voice gains influence when Mike's father leaves his mother for a younger woman, and soon, Mike is starving himself. A new friend, Amber Alley, teaches him to eat as little as possible and gives him tips on how to hide what he's doing from his parents. Mike's eating disorder ramps up jarringly quickly, particularly given that its only apparent external trigger is a conversation in which Mike hounds a girl to go out with him, then demands to know if her refusal is because he's fat (whether Mike is fat by anyone's standards but the voice's is unclear from the text). The story is well-plotted and its prose engaging, but the central conceit leaves a distracting number of questions unanswered. Who is this voice? What are its motivations? Why does it choose Mike? An ambitious and unusual take on teens and eating disorders--but not an entirely satisfactory one. (Fiction. 12-18)
The Barnes & Noble Review

Lois Metzger began her writing career as a science fiction writer, a teenage wunderkind at the famous Clarion sci-fi workshop. She was the youngest member of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins (I was there at the same time), and she began writing a brilliant form of what John Barth called Jewish Realism. Some years later, Metzger emerged as a force in young adult literature, as a novelist (Ellen's Case), biographer (The Hidden Girl), short-story writer, and editor of five popular story anthologies ranging in theme from vampires to wishes to The Year We Missed My Birthday.

Yet nothing could have prepared readers for the power and dark beauty of this breakout novel, A Trick of the Light. Consider the narrative voice, for starters. Eerie and slightly sinister, the narrator tells us, "The first time I reach Mike Welles, he's in a tunnel. It's hot, syrupy hot, July hot, the kind of heat where your breath going out feels the same as the air going in, or so I imagine. I've been trying to talk to Mike but he can't hear me or can't listen — the distinction isn't important." Who is this guy? we think. After several pages, we realize: it's the voice of his disease, a "trick of the light."

The filmmaker Vincent Grenier has said that "the question writers must ask themselves is, how have you changed the language?" With this insidious narrative voice, Metzger redefines the idea of the unreliable narrator. In the case of A Trick of the Light, the disease is anorexia, an eating disorder we (falsely) associate almost entirely with young women. In fact, it's also a dangerously growing phenomenon for young men. Mike Welles, at the center of the novel, is under pressure from all fronts. His father has started working out at the gym so much that Mike barely sees him. His mother, an organizer for other people, has collapsed into chaos. Mike's best friend, Tamio, is cooler, handsomer, and more popular, and when a beautiful new girl at school capture's Mike's heart she's drawn of course to Tamio, leaving Mike in the dust. Enter the seductive voice of anorexia: "Strong body, strong mind, strong enough to master the chaos."

Like any disease, an eating disorder is a journey. Mike doesn't tumble into it all at once, he is drawn down step by step. Along the way we meet Amber, an expert at starving herself who becomes, in a strange, slant way, the anorectic narrator's ideal and finally a real friend to Mike. We meet a teacher who tries to help and a doctor who misses all the vital signals. A Trick of the Light is roomy — a feature of many of the best novels — and into it all kinds of unexpected felicities drop. In this it reminds me of Lynn Rae Perkins's Newbery Medal-winning novel Criss- Cross. Both books are a mix of light and dark, both are inventive and playful. The dialogue in A Trick of the Light is laid out like a play script, cut to its bare essentials. At times it's heartbreaking, at other times, hilarious. Mike's mother, at the edge of a nervous breakdown, visits a woman named Meg, whose closet she's come to organize:

Mom: "First rule: there's no room in your place for someone else's possessions."

Meg: "But-that's the second 'first rule.' "

Mom: "Yes, I know. Each rule is so important it's the first."
What Metzger has pulled off is something both compelling and breathless, yet elegantly written — what they used to call a perfect book for "reluctant readers." The humor is dark but never mean. It's full of "tricks of the light" — the tissue of lies that Mike weaves together to protect his disorder; a distorting mirror he turns to for self-reflection; the way the voice in his head (and ours) becomes a convincing but false lens through which to view others. And there are good tricks as well. Mike and Tamio are in love with stop-time animation, a technique first used in movie classics like King Kong and later perfected by "its god, Ray Harryhausen" — a cinema master who sadly passed away in 2013. This novel is a celebration of Harryhausen, and of the inventive, patient, creative possibilities of "tricking" the light, providing a hopeful alternative to the dark side of deception.

A Trick of the Light may remind readers of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak and Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now. And it shares a velocity of plot and arresting quality of voice. Most important, Lois Metzger may have written a lifesaving book. It never becomes preachy, nor does it provide easy answers, but it looks at the ways teenagers suffer and points a way toward hope.

Liz Rosenberg is the author of the novel Home Repair, published in May 2009 by HarperAvon, and of two recent books of poems, Demon Love (Mammoth Books) and The Lily Poems (Bright Hills). A book columnist for The Boston Globe, she also teaches English and Creative Writing at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Reviewer: Liz Rosenberg

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062133090
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/23/2014
  • Pages: 208
  • Age range: 14 years

Meet the Author

Lois Metzger was born in Queens and has always written for young adults. She is the author of three previous novels and two nonfiction books about the Holocaust, and she has edited five anthologies. Her short stories have appeared in collections all over the world. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, and Harper's Bazaar. She lives in Greenwich Village with her husband and son.

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