Gives Light is the story of Skylar St. Clair, a mute, Native American teenager who comes to live with extended family on the Shoshone Nettlebrush Reservation after his father disappears. Eleven years previously a serial killer took both Skylar’s mother and his voice in that place, and neither he nor his father had been back since. There he meets the broody Rafael, son of the Nettlebrush serial killer, and the two form a friendship that helps them to confront and overcome their mutual past.
I was very moved by the depiction of Skylar. Despite being voiceless, he is an extremely expressive character with a rich internal life, and it caused me to reflect on the many ways we can communicate with each other. The bond he forms with Rafael feels organic, and Christo does an admirable job navigating the character’s tragic pasts by never fetishizing them as so many other authors are prone to doing.
By all accounts (though I can’t confirm it), Gives Light offers an accurate depiction of modern reservation life, which is tremendously underrepresented in contemporary media. While Skylar and Rafael are the main focus, Christo spends plenty of time fleshing out Nettlebrush, describing different facets of Native American culture, and detailing the perpetual struggle between the reservation and state government. Christo never “writes down” to her audience. Each aspect of the story and characters is treated with an earnestness and care that gives the novel a sense of authenticity and importance.