Lighting the World by Merle Drown


“If you have a gun, you don’t need a role model.” In the dark but compassionate novel, Lighting the World, by Merle Drown, these words are what sixteen-year-old Wade Rule pencils in for his starting sentence of Mr. B’s writing assignment, a reflective essay on the movie Shane.”

— Jennifer Williams

Read the entire review here.


 “Sometimes fiction and truth are equally strange.”

— Ray Duckler

Read the article here.

Read about the incident that Lighting the World is based on: here.


“Not since Russell Banks’ Rule of the Bone have I come across a protagonist like Merle Drown’s Wade Rule. A coming-of-age story with a tragic twist, Lighting the World portrays a stereotypical misfit teen boy, but without sentiment or judgment. The reader is never asked to sympathize with Wade, but Drown does a masterful job of building the character’s deepening sense of despair, fueled by his poverty and powerlessness. Denied access to the one environment where he truly shines — the woods — Wade struggles to realize his vision of himself as someone capable of lighting the world. The action moves quickly and the ending is chilling.”


“If you’re looking for a novel to pick up and get right into, this is your book. It is written so simply and in such a straightforward style that I’d almost call it beach-reading (a good thing, in my mind). However, the plot thickens quickly and the story takes on heft as we come to understand that Wade’s adolescent dreams of being responsible and getting out from under the yoke of his mother are enchained in a young male fantasy of American individualism and “frontier spirit” that stands in direct conflict with the conditions of his life: an impoverished, dysfunctional family and a small-town high school, institutionally incapable of helping him find his way. Young love, small-town life, guns, poverty, all feed into this subtle tale of the power of society and one’s parents to deal a death blow to real escape and enlightenment. In view of the recent and ongoing stories of young men and guns, I’d say this novel is a must-read.”


“I just now finished Merle Drown’s “Lighting the World,” and the pages have left me aching. I’ve known too many boys like his protaginist Wade Rule, angry sad boys who believed they only had one chance to matter … and had to make that chance work in spite of all consequences.

“Lighting the World” is Drown’s attempt to shed light on a real-life tragedy, a school shooting in Concord, N.H. a month before that same school lost a favorite teacher in the space-shuttle Challenger disaster. Lost in the crowd well before he died, the real boy behind Wade Rule was buried even further in the school’s collective mind as it grieved the hero teacher.

Drown’s powerful, almost tactile prose successfully exhumes him, putting a face on the boy that, while fictional, fits. Wade breathes and bleeds and aches with love felt and wanted. More than anything else, though, Wade wants to be needed, to matter.

Wade’s prized possession is the shotgun he used to take his first deer, an action that Wade believes opened the door to manhood, When he finds himself barred from stepping through that door — by school, by his parents — he turns to the gun again, and when your only tool is a gun, every problem starts to look like something to shoot.

Wade is a lost boy, representative I think, of the many lost children out there. The ones who join gangs, or ISIS, or father illegitimate children, or join the military (likely the healthiest of these options), thinking it’s the only way they will ever count. Unlike those nameless millions, though, Wade Rule — thanks to author Drown — has a face we can see. Read this book then pass it to your sons.”


“A small town tragedy fictionalized in the expert style expected from Drown. Very enjoyable read, sad, haunting, and an attention to detail that draws you into every scene.”


“Lighting The World, Merle Drown’s latest novel is in keeping with a central theme that appears in all of his work–the lives of “the other half,” the downtrodden, the exploited, and their desperate struggle to simply survive. Wade Rule’s world is as harsh as a New Hampshire Winter. His home is barren of love, the school that his parents moved him to is large, impersonal, and sharply divided between the privileged, and the poor. The city he lives in is restricting him from the only life he has known. When he lived in Newfound, a miniscule town dwarfed by the still untamed wilderness around it, he could survive, and he could cope. Wade is a hunter; intelligent, resourceful, and adept in his own environment, In the city though he is dying, as slow a death as any animal he may have caught in a trap back home.

Drown’s sensitive portrait of Wade, and our sympathy for him, is heightened as we listen to his thoughts, and watch him fall in love with a kindred spirit–a young girl named Maria–someone who has her own set of horrors to deal with. Both bond and in their desire to hatch a “way out” of the misery, we follow along and want them to succeed. After he has us rooting for these two truly beautiful kids, Drown accelerates well beyond the speed limit, coupling stark image upon image until circumstances begin to compound and tumble over each other to an inevitability that he has laid groundwork for from the beginning.

It’s easy to draw conclusions about sensational news that presents only hard and naked facts. It’s another matter entirely, to make sense out of something that doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. Lighting The World gives us an inside look at the logic behind something illogical. It’s a compelling piece of writing–a piece of fiction drawn from fact, that slices deep into the flesh to expose the underside of “the other half.”


“Merle Drown’s tragic triumph Lighting The World is a fictionalized account of a real-life school shooting in Concord, New Hampshire. Through a close third-person narrative, Drown inserts readers in the tortured and complicated mind of Wade Rule.

Drown’s prose and characterizations embody the best elements of Southern Gothic with a Northern sensibility. Rule’s obsession with Maria recalls Faulkner’s Benjy and Caddy in The Sound and the Fury, while the peripheral characters, as viewed through Wade’s eyes, harken to the grotesques of Flannery O’Connor.

Merle Drown provides unique insight into a small-town tragedy. His storytelling never asks the reader to sympathize with or forgive Wade, although at times they may feel compelled to do so. There is something universal in Wade’s struggles that everyone can identify with in some sense or another. Lighting The World is a compelling novel that you will be unable to put down. Or forget.”


“This latest novel by author Merle Drown explores territory we all struggle to understand: the life and mind of a boy who brings a gun to school. Based on true events at the high school where Drown taught English at the time, Lighting the World does more than ask “why?” It shows readers the boy behind the picture and name; it brings readers into his mind and thought process; it shows us how he viewed the world, the world which he desperately wanted to light up with goodness. “Lighting the World” becomes protagonist Wade Rule’s mantra, his goal and the hope to which he clings. School life isn’t so great, but home life is much, much worse. Wade turns his sights to Vermont, where his beloved and disabled Uncle Andrew lives alone in a trailer, and forms a plan to go “light the world” by caring for the one relative who seems to love him. On the morning Wade puts his plan into action, he takes from home only what he can carry—including the shotgun Uncle Andrew had given him for hunting—and goes to school to find his friend who had agreed to drive him to his uncle’s. What follows is a series of misunderstandings that cause the situation to escalate into a tragedy. Despite knowing what was going to happen, readers keep rooting for Wade and hoping the tale would turn out differently. Drown presents Wade’s thoughts in such an authentic way that appear they seem logical, yet Drown also offers real-world perspective as a balance to Wade’s internal monologue, showing readers just how far gone down the road of good but unrealistic intentions the boy has traveled. Readers come away from the story with a profound sense of loss for a life that could have done so much good but was cut far too short.”


“Like a good Greek tragedy the story moves swiftly and deadly… its style is both terse and greatly evocative…this is a wonderful work of art.”

John G. Cawelti, Emeritus Professor of University of Kentucky and author of  The Six Gun Mystique


“Grounded in the cold, hard realism of tragedy, the writing is as beautiful and whimsical as the fantasies that compel young Wade Rule to pick up his shotgun and head to his high school… Merle Drown is a writer of incredible compassion, and Lighting the World… reflects how little we understand about the troubled and tortured souls who live among us.”

Wiley Cash, New York Times best-selling author of A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy


“Drown is a master of dialogue, simile and metaphor … his down home tales of a hidden Americana, of people trying to keep pace with a world moving way too fast for its own good, are literary masterpieces.

Charlie Stella, author of Shakedown and Rough Riders

Read the entire review here.


“To my knowledge, there has never been a book written so poignantly from the world view of a boy who does something terribly, terribly wrong… He is our child. He is us.”

Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and originator of the Twitter blog Today’s School Shooting News


“[Lighting the World] reflects the dark side of Catcher in the Rye. I am greatly impressed with [Merle Drown’s] ability to capture the mind and heart of the adolescent experience.”

Phil Goldfarb, Motion Picture and Television Producer


“Wade isn’t a kid with a gun in a school. He’s like a million other people who get twisted around by dreams that have no chance of ever coming true.”

Jon Greenberg, staff writer for PunditFact/PolitiFact


“This raw, gritty portrayal of a boy desperate for love and belonging provides a window into a reality we so often want to draw the curtain on and hide from view. Here, Drown explores the brutal consequences of doing just that–with wit, wisdom and above all, heart.”

Jo Knowles, author of Living with Jackie Chan


“A searing and sympathetic portrait of a troubled teen searching for hope in a seemingly hopeless life, Merle Drown takes us inside the mind of an angry young man, showing just how easily desperation and despair can curdle into tragedy. ”

Robin Wasserman, author of The Waking Dark and The Book of Blood and Shadow


“Intriguing, heartfelt and insightful, Lighting the World is a rich and complex novel filled with fascinating characters and genuine moments of surprise.”

John Searles, best-selling author of Help for the Haunted and Strange But True