Nightmares become reality in Mary Kubica’s ‘When the Lights Go Out’

Title: When the Lights Go Out
Author: Mary Kubica
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Publisher: Parker Row Books
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 363 pages
Available: 4 September 2018


“I’m hopelessly alone. Everything hurts. I can no longer think straight; I can no longer see straight; I can no longer speak. I don’t know who I am anymore. If I am anyone. And I know in that moment for certain: I am no one.”

lights.jpgJessie Sloan’s mother is dying from breast cancer. Too afraid to not be there for her mom when the moment comes, Jessie’s been avoiding sleep. When a kind doctor takes pity on Jessie, giving her something to help her sleep, she reluctantly drifts off — only to wake up and find her mother already dead.

Eden’s dying wish for her daughter was that Jessie finds herself. So much of their lives had been wrapped up in Eden’s cancer: battling it, thinking they beat it, only to have the cancer come back with a vengeance, moving from breast, to lungs, to bones. Feeling more lost than ever, Jessie tries to keep Eden’s promise. So she applies to college. After all, that’s where people her age are supposed to be finding themselves, right?

The problem is, Jessie’s social security number actually belongs to someone else: a three-year-old who died in a hit and run accident years ago.

Now, Jessie doesn’t know what to think. As each day after her mother’s death passes, both the truth of who Jessie might actually be and sleep eludes her. The harder she looks into her past, the more she questions not just who she is, but what kind of person Eden actually was. But as each day passes where she’s unable to sleep, Jessie’s connection with reality breaks to the point where the only thing she ends up being sure about is that once she reaches day 11 of being awake, she’s going to die.

“What makes not sleeping even worse than the crippling fatigue is the boredom that infiltrates those nighttime hours. The misery. The morbid thoughts that keep me company all night long.”

Interspersed with journal entries from Eden in her pre-Jessie days, Kubica weaves a suspenseful story with rich, well-developed characters, and a twist ending I didn’t see coming. Not only did I find myself caught up in wondering the lengths Eden will go to have a baby she wants desperately, or whether or not Jessie finds out the truth of who she is, but the way Kubica handled Jessie’s insomnia was by far the most realistic representation I’ve seen in a while.

As someone who struggles with insomnia, I actually ended up reading this on a weekend where I couldn’t sleep. Not only was the story captivating, but on a deeper level, I felt incredibly understood.

Steeped in mystery, suspense, and struggles with grief and mental illness, When the Lights Go Out is the perfect book for a rainy fall day.

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