LightMasters: Number 13 tells the story of 13 year old Jessica who learns she’s a Lightmaster when she follows mysterious lights into the forest. Talking to the strangers she encounters there, she discovers that she has a role to play in saving the world. It’s told from her point of view in a first person, frenetic, information-dumping kind of way that fairly realistically imitates a young teen voice.
The first part of the book is the Lightmasters test that Jessica has to take—it’s a very strange world, reminiscent of Wonderland. Some parts of the test are really intense, such as snake-like things that trap her and bite her, and an octopus that nearly drowns her.
Jessica’s real world is nearly equally awful, full of bullies and racism. Through the course of the book she learns that most people are corrupted by a dark force that the Lightmasters battle against—she begins to see the people around her as reptilian because her role as Lightmaster is letting her see the world as it truly is. Perhaps this helps explain how amazingly bleak her reality is? (It’s also possible that my own children starting middle school is preventing me from appreciating humor in an exaggerated dysfunctional school environment.)
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Racism & Stereotypes
One of Jessica’s friends, Cleo, is African American. She faces extreme bullying and at one point she’s held down and threatened. She’s afraid to tell her dad what happened because he’s Irish and she isn’t sure how he’ll react.
Libby is Jewish. She is frequently made fun of and always threatens to sue.
The bullying in Jessica’s school is extreme, as is the reaction to it. At some point, Jessica feels intimidated by a teacher. She slams his hand with a book and breaks his pinky.
Jack is a huge and dangerous bully, but I started feeling sorry for him because of how awful people are to him—even the teachers make fun of him. Jessica and her friend rigged his locker with paint which ruined his stuff. By the end of the book, he’s missing. Jessica finds this convenient more than mysterious or possibly tragic.
During the test, Jessica is kissed against her will, which turns her into a mermaid.
Jessica learns that Jack is her half brother, but he’s the son of Sartan, the dark force that’s trying to take over the world. Before Jessica’s mom met Jessica’s dad, she was put into a trance and seduced. When she finally woke up from the trance, she gave the baby up for adoption and no one ever told Jessica about her half brother, who is also the person who bullies her most.
Even friends are nasty to each other. “Retard” is repeatedly used as an insult. Fat butts are mentioned. There’s a ton of name calling. Cleo talks about how much she hates being insulted with the N word, and Jessica points out that African Americans use the term, too.
Jessica’s grandparents say terrible things to each other, but it’s mostly affectionate.
Jessica’s grandparents are gassy and rude to each other. She finds them truly disgusting and has no respect for them. Over time, though, she begins to realize that in their bickering is love and that there are many things she can learn from them. It does turn out that some of their quirks point to their true nature, which Jessica learns later. It took a while for them to grow on me, too, but by the end of the book I enjoyed them.
There’s a lot of farting, burping, body odor, hygiene issues, and puking in this book. It’s only occasionally played for laughs, and it’s definitely a reason to think poorly of someone.
Many of the kids’ parents are dead, missing, or abusive. Siblings are cruel to each other. Jessica has lots to learn about her own family. Over the course of the book she gets to know her grandparents better; they’re loving to each other and definitely have her best interests at heart.
The environment in Jessica’s school is horrific. The kids are actively out to get the teachers who are mostly despicable people out to ruin the kids’ lives. The kids are rude to the teachers, insulting them in class and disobeying outright. Jessica becomes a bit of a hero after attacking a teacher. The kids are awful to each other, forming alliances and turning on each other.
After Cleo is horrifically bullied, instead of calling her parents, the principal has Jessica escort Cleo home from school in a taxi—resenting that she’s been asked to look after Cleo, Jessica has the taxi go through the McDonald’s drive thru and then drop them off at a park instead of taking Cleo straight home.
The violence is shockingly casual. Jessica lobs a rock at a former friend, hitting her in the head and knocking her out. Since the former friend is a lizard person and is chasing Cleo, this is arguably warranted, but Jessica hardly thinks twice about it. She responds violently to many situations, such as breaking the teacher’s finger. Bullies physically attack kids and threaten death. And this isn’t even getting into the Lightmasters test and the whole battle against evil. That said, the final battle is pretty non-violent—Jessica uses her mind to banish Sartan, the villain. It happens rather abruptly.
Jessica’s friend Hank has hemophilia and he dies as a teenager. This loss drives her to accept her role as a Lightmaster. The reader doesn’t get to know Hank very well—his primary role is to die and give Jessica the push she needs to step up. He does return briefly after death to talk with her and encourage her to be a Lightmaster.
Jessica is still reeling from the violent death of her parents due to a drunk driver, although the resulting lawsuit has left her a multi-millionaire once she turns 18.
Injured and frightened, unwilling to accept her quickly changing world, Jessica runs away. She goes into a room she wasn’t supposed to in her grandparents’ house and takes money she finds there; then she catches a train to New York City. There she passes out from her wound and is taken in by two strangers. They take care of her and then put her on a train so she can continue her solo trip to Georgia. This means she’s there when Hank dies. Her grandparents show up magically in Georgia, mildly disappointed that she disobeyed them. They seem remarkably laid back about a 13 year old taking off like that.
Love and Inner Strength
The way to overcome the darkness in the world is to use love, even against those who hurt you. Jessica knows this will be tough, but she seems prepared to try it. She uses positive thoughts and emotions to banish Sartan.
Kids who are dealing with bullying might find this book to be a bit much—Jessica, Libby, and Cleo put up with some awful bullying, and they don’t get a lot of support even from their friends. I hope that most kids will find shocking the violence, bullying, and insults that are accepted as normal in her world. Jessica’s world is pretty dark, even if Lightmasters are supposed to fight against that. This book mostly sets up how bleak and unwelcoming the world is. A sequel is in the works, and I hope that future books will expand on the promise of making the world a safer and more loving place.
Maybe it’s because I used to teach 13 year olds, but a school where teachers insult kids and kids in return scream at teachers, walk out of classrooms, and physically attack them was horrific to me. Our heroine is an unrepentant part of this culture, and it bothered me. Yes, by the end she’s stepping up to play her role in making the world a better place and she’s learning to get along with her grandparents, but she still seems to think that pranking Jack and attacking a teacher were acceptable ways to behave.
This book is suitable for older readers (I’d say thirteen and up) who will hopefully see humor in Jessica’s extreme situations and reactions. Perhaps as the mom of younger readers, I’m reading this too seriously. Overall, the world is creative and obviously holds many more stories. I’ll be interested to see where the series goes as Jessica embraces her role and hopefully starts making her world a bit lighter than it is in this book.
Disclaimer: The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review. M.G. Wells is also a guest reviewer for Reads 4 Tweens.
LightMasters: Number 13 by M.G. Wells
Published in 2010 by M.G. Wells
Read a hardcopy supplied to me by the author