Life (and hope) find a way to muddle through after the levees break and the waters surge in this meditative novel.
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Florida is slipping away. As devastating weather patterns and rising sea levels gradually wreak havoc on the state’s infrastructure, a powerful hurricane approaches a small town on the southeastern coast. Kirby Lowe, an electrical line worker; his pregnant wife, Frida; and their two sons, Flip and Lucas, prepare for the worst. When the boys go missing just before the hurricane hits, Kirby heads out into the high winds to search for them. Left alone, Frida goes into premature labor and gives birth to an unusual child, Wanda, whom she names after the catastrophic storm that ushers her into a society closer to collapse than ever before.
As Florida continues to unravel, Wanda grows. Moving from childhood to adulthood, adapting not only to the changing landscape, but also to the people who stayed behind in a place abandoned by civilization, Wanda loses family, gains community, and ultimately, seeks adventure, love, and purpose in a place remade by nature.
Told in four parts—power, water, light, and time—The Light Pirate mirrors the rhythms of the elements and the sometimes quick, sometimes slow dissolution of the world as we know it. It is a meditation on the changes we would rather not see, the future we would rather not greet, and a call back to the beauty and violence of an untamable wilderness.
The Light Pirate
Frida watches Kirby from the kitchen window while she washes Yukon Golds beneath a thin trickle of water. Scrubbing at the dim yellow skins, she decides not to peel them. Maybe the boys won’t notice if she mashes them thoroughly enough—and if they do, she will cite nutritional value. Outside, beneath a bloated purple sky knifed with the sharp fronds of a coconut palm, Kirby stacks sandbags against the door to the tool shed. Even with the AC blasting, Frida can smell the rich stink of thunder in the air, something like ozone and gasoline and dirt all mixed together. The hurricane is close now. She can taste it.
The baby kicks so hard she holds on to the counter until it stops. It feels as if this tiny, unborn thing could topple her. She asked—no, begged—Kirby to take them north, beyond the cone of uncertainty, but this is the third hurricane of the season and the third time she’s wanted to evacuate. The first one fizzled into a tropical storm before it even reached land. Heavy rain and a stiff wind and that was all. The second crawled up the opposite coast, wreaking havoc in Sarasota and Tampa, then swung back out into the Gulf. Before each one, he listened quietly to her pleas, calming her fears without succumbing to them, but then this morning something in her husband shifted. “Get yourself together,” he snapped. “We’re not leaving.” She was stung, shocked by the hardness in his voice. A new sound. Or new to her. It was just over a year ago that they met. Only six months since they married. There’s so much to learn about one another.
Even if he were not bound to these storms by his work as a lineman, he would still be bound by something else. She has always understood this about him. He would still insist that this house is the safest place for them. This house—fortified by his labor, shielded from ocean winds by the wild tangle of live oak and cypress that looms just beyond the yard, but mostly guarded by the strength of his will. And isn’t this at least partly why she fell in love with him? This faith in the strength of his own preparations. This promise of protection. A stolid, immovable weight—the anchor secreted inside his rib cage, holding him to the earth, to Frida, to Florida. If he believes they are safe, then maybe she can, too.
Why I love it
Author, Necessary People
You know that feeling of liking a fictional character so much that you actually want to become friends with her? That’s how I feel about Wanda, the brave, stubborn, badass heroine of The Light Pirate.
Wanda is born in the middle of a hurricane. Her coastal town in Florida is nearly destroyed, but baby Wanda survives. These devastating “once-in-a-century” storms are now happening every year. As she grows into a girl, and then a young woman, the landscape around her rapidly transforms—the air is warmer, the seas are rising. Wanda has no choice but to adapt. So she grows her own food, and paddles her canoe through mangrove swamps, and she fights to survive as the wilderness takes back the land.
Even though it feels like the world is ending, Wanda sees the beauty in that world: the birds singing in the trees, the water lilies blooming in the mangrove swamp. She learns to do more than survive. She makes new friends. She falls in love. A person can choose to fear or embrace the wilderness. Which do you think Wanda chooses?
Certain books move into your heart and stay there forever. The Light Pirate is one of them.
Member ratings (6,430)
Troy , NY
An absolute absorbing masterpiece. A changing scenery when you didn’t have a specific timeline, just like the characters in the story, really added another layer to become immersed in. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This was GORGEOUS. Atmospheric and raw, wild and beautifully rendered. Best book I’ve read about climate change so far, and I know I’ll continue thinking of this watery world for a long time to come.
This is one of my favorites from this year. It takes a few chapters to settle into the authors writing style and really understand what is going on and when you do it’s unbelievably heartwarming and…
Santa Monica, CA
“A story that, at its core, is about land” The Before & After are looks into what getting back to & depending on would look like without the current comforts of life- tuning into a deeper knowledge.
I read half of this book between 10:00 pm and midnight. get a box before you read because you’ll need it to put your broken heart. I didn’t need/want romance. Rather have had resolve of her brother.