An after-the-adventure story inspired by Narnia-like stories of children finding other worlds, The Light Between Worlds shows the way two sisters deal in the real world when they come back. Evelyn and Philippa and their older brother Jamie had all been swept away to Woodlands during a bomb strike (in WWII) by Evelyn’s wish and they grow up for 5 years over there, aiding the Woodlands (which is the Narnia analog, having all manners of magical creatures) in preventing war with the human kingdom. Philippa is miserable over there, having to worry about keeping Evelyn safe while being a diplomatic contact with the arrogant prince of the enemies. In the end, when they come back, she wishes for Evelyn to come back with her, which is what causes a rift between them.
Having come back at the same age they went, they have to grow up again, now in a war-torn world. Evelyn, however, has problems fitting in – she was a pre-teen during that time, and those years were formative for her, and being over there gave her a sense of belonging, which is why she is utterly miserable back in our world.
She fights her depression but often isn’t able to; Phillipa takes care of her when she goes too far, but you can see it is putting a strain on her, being a teenager again, having to be simultaneously protecting her sister from herself but also protecting their secret from others. Essentially, she is alone, as Jamie is off in another school, and he is mostly trying to live his life, hoping to forget and move on, which is what she wants too. Ultimately, she also moves away, and Evelyn later on disappears, causing her to search back and try to find her.
The story plays in current time as well as intermittent flashback passages from their time in Woodlands. The fantasy part feels close enough to Narnia, but it does develop the characters and their thoughts about taking up different roles in this world that is not their own. In current time, Evelyn is trying to move on, finding a boyfriend, being a regular girl, but she can’t let go of Woodlands. Even hoping to one day move on feels like a betrayal to that world to her. The writing brings out her longing and grief so well, it feels very visceral.
When the POV switches over to Philippa in the second half, you can understand how she was stressed, how she found a way to move on, a new life, how she overcomes her own guilt and grief from what she did for her sister. Essentially, she feels responsible for causing her sister’s grief, because she wanted to keep their family intact. It is an impossible situation, and only when she lets go of that instinct, she is able to find her own peace.
In short, a moving story of longing, grief, and the bonds of family. Heck, this was so emotional I cried once again while writing this review, weeks after I originally read the book.