"Don't Go Into The Light!" A False Accusation...Jump Right In!

D.J. MacHale. Morpheus Road: The Light. New York: Aladdin, 2010.
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"I believe in ghosts. Simple as that. I believe in ghosts. Maybe that doesn't come across as very dramatic. After all, lots of people believe in ghosts...there are millions of people who love getting scared by ghost stories. They may not believe, but they sure have fun pretending. I'm not like any of those people. At least not anymore...I believe in ghosts. After you hear my story, I think you will too."

D.J. MacHale begins his new trilogy, The Morpheus Road, with this chilling beginning. For those readers of MacHale's Pendragon series expecting a rehash of their favorite past-time, I'd recommend continuing to turn the pages. This is not because the series are anything alike, but, on the contrary, because they are so very different. And, yet, so much the same. Still present is the strong connection to the young adult life. Themes to which young adults can relate to, such as isolation, love, friendship, loss, confusion, are all strongly portrayed in this book. For those of you not familiar with Pendragon (and I highly recommend that you become so) this is the style of MacHale. And yet, this is not Bobby Pendragon. This has nothing to do with Halla. Or Territories...this is Marshall Seaver, and he believes in ghosts.

Marshall is sixteen and just finished up his sophomore year of high school at Davis Gregory High in the small suburb of Stony Brook, Connecticut - oh wait, Pendragon fans, I lied, there is something in common. Marshall is planning on spending a summer with his best friend, Cooper Foley, having fun and just being boys. However, that all changes. Cooper gets into Trouble Town, as he calls it, and his parents force him to spend the summer at their private cottage away from all the bad influences of high school, Marshall not included.
Marshall, whose only real friend is now gone on a summer-long hiatus, finds himself staring at the prospect of a long summer of all work and no play. And things just go down hill from there...

His dad tries to convince him to go on a business trip with him, for some father-son bonding time. Marsh gets annoyed with his dad, thinking that his dad is overly concerned with him and his mental welfare, due to the after-effects of his mother's death two years ago, and they get in a fight. Marsh storms off to his room, where he works himself into a mental-temper-tantrum (we've all had them, be honest) and he throws a mysterious porcelain/glass ball (given to him by his mother) at a picture that his mother took, the last picture she took as an archaeologist before she died in a tragic, unexpected earthquake. The ball shatters, spraying red liquid all over his bedroom wall. Marsh, shocked by this red explosion, investigates, only to find out that it is blood! He runs to get his dad, but, by the time they return, the blood has vanished.

A day later, Marsh is officially alone. Home alone. His dad is off on business, and he has the house to himself. Things deteriorate from there. Weird sounds start happening, mysterious winds, cryptic designs appear, and then...Gravedigger makes his grand entrance. A figment of Marsh's own imagination, a hand-sketched character, comes to life...and begins stalking Marsh, whispering things about the Morpheus Road, all the while trying to kill him.

Already, at the very outset of the book, we can start to see the themes that will ring so true with the young adult audience. Marsh is dealing with the loss of a parent, a loss of a friend, literally and emotionally, he is alone while his dad is gone, and life seems to be deteriorating faster than he can rebuild it. MacHale will continue throughout the duration of the book to deal with these very real issues, while, at the same time, providing hope that, if Marsh can learn to deal with the problems, you can find a way too.

Back to the story. Can things get any worse for Marsh? Yes, they can. Cooper mysteriously disappears while on vacation at the family cottage, and Marsh's isolation only deepens. He is forced to catch a ride with Cooper's beautiful, and aloofly cold, older sister, Sydney, to the Foley's cottage, where he tries once again to piece together his life, while desperately trying to find Coop. And the haunting by Gravedigger continues and intensifies. Sydney starts seeing things too. Events continue to spiral downhill, out of Marsh's control...out of anyone's control, for that matter. Sydney and Marsh, joined together by the loss of a brother and a friend and by the supernatural happenings that they are experiencing, strike up an odd partnership. Marsh is pleased about that part, even if the relationship is a twisted and often confusing one, since he has had a crush on Sydney for years.

The haunting only gets worse, and more deadly. People die. As Marsh puts it, "That's the harsh thing about ghost stories. Somebody had to die. No death, no ghost." Meanwhile, Coop is still missing. Supernatural, explainable events are happening at every turn. And yet, they must have some purpose, some reason behind them. And that is what worries Marsh the most...could he be responsible for everything that is happening because, after all, he created Gravedigger...

This book is a fast-paced thriller. Some might call it a "horror story." Call it what you will, but it is not gory to any stretch of the word. This book is written for young adults and it will not give them nightmares, maybe a lot of goosebumps, but not nightmares. This book relates to what young adults want in a book, things to which they can relate. So, while it is definitely not a spin-off of the Pendragon series, this book still hits the same keynotes that resonate with the young adult audience. This book addresses all of the items that the "Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies Cheat Sheet" lists as crucial. The struggles that Marsh goes through trying to discover his identity, overcome the changes that come with high school, changing friendships, loss of a parent, tough choices, life-or-death decisions (or ones that might seem like it), having a crush on a girl that is "so out of your league it isn't even funny"... all these things and more are evident in this book. All of these elements relate to young adults, boys and girls alike in some manner.

The supporting class of characters, especially Sydney and Cooper, are not flat characters either. Each of them give realistic young adults for the readers to sympathize with. Sydney especially gives a strong female character to whom many girls, and, even some guys, are able to relate to. DJ MacHale creates a base of characters who are believable and are able to relate to the audience. This is crucial and, along with a good plot and good voice, helps make this book into a good Young Adult read (as well as a good read for those of us older who like reading this kind of literature.)

Recommendations for Teachers
The Light is a very entertaining, suspenseful, and worthwhile read. However, I can't really see it being taught in a conventional English classroom; this book would best be taught in a class that specifically deals with science fiction/fantasy books. That being said, as mentioned above, there are some themes in the novel that young adults can relate to and would be worth discussing if it were to be used in an English class:
  • Family: Two years before the book begins, Marshall loses his mother. He has only his father to rely on, and they both cope with her death in their own ways. They are relatively close, but their family relationship has never been the same since she has been gone. Marsh relies on his friend, Cooper, and his parents once she is gone and he considers them to be as close as family. You can discuss this slightly unorthodox familial relationship with your class, as I'm sure many students have experienced this themselves.
  • Friendship: Marsh and Coop have been friends since kindergarten. As Marsh begins to experience hardships in the novel, he always thinks of Coop and knows that he will help him with his problems. Through the flashbacks that Marsh takes readers through, one can see how great of friends they've always been. The fact that they are drifting apart in high school, however, makes these events quite sad; students will surely be able to identify with this changing friendship, especially in high school. You can have students respond to a prompt pertaining to a friendship they have now, or one that they've lost. In addition, even though they have fought, Marsh knows with certainty that Coop is the one person he can rely on, no matter how much they've drifted apart. Nothing is more important than helping a friend. Marsh would do the same for Cooper. With your class, you could talk with students about what similar friendships they might have and how they have helped each other through tough times.
  • Death: The first story of death that readers encounter in the novel is Marshall's mother's. Then, throughout the novel, Marsh witnesses many more deaths and struggles with them internally. However, he also has Sydney to lean on as she is one of the few people he can really trust. Using Marsh's experiences, you can create a class discussion about deaths that they have encountered, be it a loved one, a friend, or a stranger. You can ask them to talk about how them felt, and if they had anyone to talk to about it afterwards. For those that have never experienced death, they can discuss what death means to them.
  • Tough Choices: Throughout the novel, Marsh has to make the kinds of choices that no adolescent should have to make. These choices range from the extreme, life-and-death choices, to deciding who can be trusted and what sort of decisions he should make, to whether or not he is going insane. At one point, Marsh tells Sydney that "There's something seriously wrong with [him]". Most likely, middle school- and high school-age students think this is true of themselves of some point, too. They would be able to sympathize with Marsh, and the fact that he questions his character is also relatable to them. Teens have to make different kinds of tough choices everyday, too, like, "Who should I be friends with?" or "Who can I tell this to?" These are the same things Marsh had to tackle as he was haunted by Gravedigger. Although no young adults are, hopefully, being hunted by a supernatural being, instructors could talk to students about what choices they've had to make in their lives and how this has affected who they are today.

These underlying themes in The Light would be a worthwhile book to teach in a classroom. It would also be very interesting for students to read, and would certainly keep them entertained. They would be able to relate to Marsh as he struggles through family issues, strained friendships, death, and tough choices, all the while trying to find his best friend, Coop, and trying to stay alive.

About D.J. MacHale
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D.J. MacHale is probably best well known for writing the ten-part, New York Times #1 Bestseller Pendragon: Journal of an Adventure Through Time and Space. Along with being an author, he is also a writer, producer, director, and creator of several television shows. Some of these shows include: Are You Afraid of the Dark, Flight 29 Down, Encyclopedia Brown, Tower of Terror, and Ghost Writer. MacHale has won awards for these shows, such as a Writers Guild of America award for “Outstanding Children’s Script” (for Flight 29 Down) and a CableAce award for Best Youth Series (for a Showtime program, Chris Cross).

The first of his most famous books, the Pendragon series, was published in 2002, concluding in 2009 with the final installment. His most recent work, The Morpheus Road series began in 2010, with the final book released on March 27th, 2012.

Donald James MacHale was born in 1955 in Greenwich, CT. He began his career by teaching film and photography while pursuing his own work in New York City. Currently, he lives in Southern California with his wife and daughter.

( http://djmachalebooks.com/the-author/ )

Multimedia (Video or Audio)

Below is an interview with DJ Machale discussing his inspiration for the trilogy as well as his history with the subject matter. Beneath that is a fan-made trailer exploring what the book might look like in film form.

Additional Resources:
Here are various links relating to The Light, including the author's page and blog, and review by many different sites and people. There are also links to a couple articles related to young adult fantasy novels and the teaching of them in classrooms.
  • D.J. Machale's Author Page - Here you can find information on more DJ Machale books, such as others in the Morpheus Road Trilogy or one from his other series, Pendragon. You can also read more about Machale, including his personal blog.
  • Machale's IMDb Page - Check out DJ Machale's IMDb to see the films and television episodes he has directed and written.
  • Teaching Fantasy: Overcoming the Stigma of Fluff - Read this article to discover the importance of teaching fantasy novels to adolescents.
  • GoodReads Review - This will take you to a GoodReads review on The Light, accompanied by comments from other readers.
  • D.J. Machale's Blog - This link takes you directly to MacHale's personal blog. He shares information about his latest books, interviews, and other projects so that his fans can keep up with his progress.
  • Trends and Issues in YA Literature: Chapter 3 - Get up to speed on the trends and issues in YA fiction with this PDF.
  • Qualities of Young Adult Literature - Discover a few of the qualities of good YA fiction on this website.
  • Lauren's Crammed Bookshelf - Here, you will find a personal site on which a young adult reader has reviewed The Light.
  • Simon & Schuster - Read excerpts from the novel, and much more, here.
  • Bookshare - Get the lowdown on DJ Machale's other works by visiting this site.
Reviewed by: Baige Bell, Jessica Sorgs, Ethan Mingerink, Clarice Thorpe (Also, see our review of "Graceling")