From New York Times bestselling author Joyce Maynard comes the eagerly anticipated follow-up to her beloved novel Count the Ways—a complex story of three generations of a family and its remarkable, resilient, indomitable matriarch, Eleanor.

Following the death of her former husband, Cam, fifty-four-year-old Eleanor has moved back to the New Hampshire farm where they raised three children to care for their brain-injured son, Toby, now an adult. Toby’s older brother, Al, is married and living in Seattle with his wife; their sister, Ursula, lives in Vermont with her husband and two children.

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From New York Times bestselling author Joyce Maynard comes the eagerly anticipated follow-up to her beloved novel Count the Ways—a complex story of three generations of a family and its remarkable, resilient, indomitable matriarch, Eleanor.

Following the death of her former husband, Cam, fifty-four-year-old Eleanor has moved back to the New Hampshire farm where they raised three children to care for their brain-injured son, Toby, now an adult. Toby’s older brother, Al, is married and living in Seattle with his wife; their sister, Ursula, lives in Vermont with her husband and two children. Although all appears stable, old resentments, anger, and bitterness simmer just beneath the surface.

How the Light Gets In follows Eleanor and her family through fifteen years (2010 to 2024) as their story plays out against a uniquely American backdrop and the events that transform their world (climate change, the January 6th insurrection, school violence) and shape their lives (later-life love, parental alienation, steadfast friendship). With her trademark sensitivity and insight, Joyce Maynard paints an indelible portrait of characters both familiar and new making their way over rough, messy, and treacherous terrain to find their way to what is, for each, a place to call “home.”

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  • William Morrow & Company
  • Paperback
  • June 2024
  • 432 Pages
  • 9780062398307

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About Joyce Maynard

Joyce Maynard is the author of twelve previous novels and five books of nonfiction, as well as the syndicated column, “Domestic Affairs.” Her bestselling memoir, At Home in the World, has been translated into sixteen languages. Her novels To Die For and Labor Day were both adapted for film. Maynard divides her time between homes in California, New Hampshire, and Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.


“If ever we needed a novel capable of healing our troubled, world-weary souls, that time is now. But where, oh where, is the book? Actually, it has arrived: Joyce Maynard’s new novel, How the Light Gets In. And what a gift it is.”
— Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls and the North Bath Trilogy of Fool novels

“Joyce Maynard has stitched together a warm, rich patchwork quilt of a novel that reminds us history is made up simply of our stories; and that even in broken, imperfect things one finds beauty and strength.” — Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Joyce Maynard’s How the Light Gets In grabbed ahold of me in the first chapter and didn’t let go until I’d finished the epilogue. A master storyteller at the top of her game, Maynard populates her story with characters I worried about, rooted for, and related to. I LOVED this book!” — Wally Lamb

“In turns joyful and heartbreaking, How the Light Gets In is a wise and bittersweet portrait of a complicated family. Joyce Maynard writes the kind of books that readers adore – bighearted, beautifully crafted, propulsively readable, and full of flawed and fickle characters who make difficult decisions and big mistakes, stumbling through life and love, trying to do their best. A word of advice: clear your calendar before you start reading!”
— Adrienne Brodeur, nationally bestselling author of Little Monsters and Wild Game

“How did Maynard know that this is exactly the book we all need now? This exhilaratingly brilliant novel isn’t just an indelible story of the falling dominoes of a family struggling through crisis and through generations, it’s also about the times we live through. . . . This gorgeous story reminds us that love is always, always worth it.” — Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and With or Without You

“Sensitively plumbing the complexity of human emotions, of love and forgiveness, [Maynard] draws readers into a deep, aching attachment to her characters, creating an ultimately hopeful tale just right for this moment.” — Booklist (starred review)

“Readers will sink into Maynard’s masterful portrait of one woman’s life in this decades-spanning family saga.” –– Library Journal (starred review)

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you experienced an estrangement in your life, or know someone who has?   If you were in Eleanor’s situation , as a parent and grandparent, how would you have dealt with it.  Recognizing that parental estrangement is a growing trend in our society:  Did you relate to Eleanor’s experience? And—for younger readers, of Ursula’s generation:  Could you understand Ursula’s behavior?
  2. Eleanor feels that her “failures involved doing too much for her children…paid too much attention, probably.” (p.97)  Do you believe in unconditional love, no matter how the unconditionally-loved person treats the person who continues to love and give to her?
  3. Eleanor feels that if she loved Cam once, had children and a family with him, that that connection could never fully disappear, and so she takes care of him during his illness and death. Do you agree with that sentiment, or do you feel that Eleanor was especially generous to take care of Cam at the end of his life? Would you do the same? How did you end up feeling about Cam, by the time he died?  Would you call him a good father?
  4. At fifty-seven years old, Eleanor has come to a place of forgiveness, of herself and others. She attributes time and age to coming to that place. Is it possible to come to forgiveness and acceptance earlier, to forgive as we live, or does it only come after having lived?
  5. Eleanor’s family is broad and includes some people that are not blood relatives. What is your definition of family? Are there people you consider family that are not related to you by blood?
  6. Parenting is a big theme of the book. How much of Eleanor’s parenting style do you think is an effect of her own upbringing? Do you think all parenting styles are a product of upbringing? Compare Coco and Raine’s parenting styles.
  7. Did you understand why Raine attempted to seduce Toby?  Do you consider her actions unforgiveable?
  8. How did you feel about Elijah’s decision to bring Toby to visit a prostitute?  Can you imagine making such a choice, for a person in Toby’s situation.
  9. Eleanor wants to “stop time” and “hold onto this moment” of her family gathered all together (p. 145). Later, she thinks about these fleeting beautiful moments as “sunlight hitting the glass” (p. 154) like the broken pieces of the bowl Toby bought her in the window. Do you have any moments like this in your life that you will always remember? Did you know at the time that you would hold onto these joys forever?
  10. Eleanor has a non-traditional relationship with Guy that spans many years but ultimately ends. He calls her years after their relationship, conferring the award that she’s “the person [he’d] want to know if anything happened to [him]” (p. 309), but she is finally unmoved. What does Guy and Eleanor’s relationship leave her with? What does it teach her about herself? Were you surprised by the outcome of Eleanor’s relationship with Guy?  Was there a moment in the story when you thought, this will never work?
  11. Once Eleanor finds that her life no longer centers around her children, her marriage, her grandchildren, as she had expected, how does she decide to spend her days? Have you ever come to the realization that your life is no longer what you expected it to look like? How was it different?
  12. How do you imagine Eleanor feels when she ultimately resigns herself to the reality of her relationship with Ursula, thinking “when you can’t fix a problem…the best thing you can do is learn to live with it” (p.254). What other situations has Eleanor learned to accept and live with? What situations in your life have you had to accept?
  13. Just as Elijah uses music to memorize what he thinks will be his last times with Toby, the author refers to music throughout the book as the soundtrack to the family members’ lives. Are you familiar with the music referenced in the book? What music makes up the soundtrack of your life?
  14. June Verlander’s bowls show the art of kintsugi, or mending broken pieces with gold. These pieces are “stronger in the broken places” (p.268) much like June herself. How does this apply to the characters in this book – are they all stronger in their broken places? The title of this book, How the Light Gets In, is from a Leonard Cohen lyric, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” How does this apply to you and your experiences in life?
  15. At the end of the novel, Eleanor reflects on Toby’s accident as a kind of gift—or at least, as an experience that brought her and her family to so many other experiences she “would not have missed”.  Were you able to believe that Eleanor could have arrived at this level of acceptance of such a huge life-altering event, that most people would call a tragedy?



Of all the pictures that still haunt her twenty-five years later, of that day they brought Toby to the hospital, Eleanor has no idea why this would be the one that has lodged in her brain.

It concerns her husband, Cam. A moment in the waiting room, somewhere in the middle of that awful stretch of hours the two of them waited to find out whether their son would live or die or end up somewhere in between.

It isn’t what you’d think a person would retain of that night—not the image of Toby lying blank-eyed and motionless on the stretcher. (Toby, motionless? In four and a half years—the sum total of his life so far—Toby’s body had never stopped moving. Neither had his brain.)

The ambulance hadn’t even come to a full stop before they were throwing open the doors, lifting the stretcher out—four large men in EMT gear holding aloft the terrifyingly still form of a very small boy, barefoot, the tail he’d attached that morning, made from a sock stuffed with Kleenex, still safety-pinned to his shorts.  He’d told them he wanted to know what it felt like to be a stegosaurus.

A path had cleared before them, of people in white jackets who must have understood that every second mattered here. None of them knew how long Toby had been there when Alison found him face down in the pond.

Eleanor had watched it all unfold: the doctors racing past, following alongside the stretcher with their white jackets flapping behind them, calling out orders. The feet of the nurses—all those white shoes, racing to keep up, their rubber soles making a soft squeaking sound on the linoleum. And more doctors converging from all directions, more machines, more nurses—a man with an IV pole dodging to get out of the way, a candy striper pressed against the wall, somebody’s stethoscope hanging out of her pocket, slapping against her hip—and a woman’s voice howling, over and over, a single syllable. No.

This was Eleanor’s voice, Eleanor who howled. Eleanor, running behind the doctors, calling out “Don’t let him die.”

No doubt Ursula was running alongside, too—Ursula, the one who long ago appointed herself the person in their family who would keep her sights fixed on the sun, no matter what, never mind that she was only seven years old. Now she would have been telling her mother, “You’ll see. Toby’s going to be okay.”

Somewhere a little way off, Alison—the realist—would have leaned against a door offering nothing in the way of encouragement or good cheer. Until this day, the connection between Alison and Toby had been the closest of any in the family. Ali and her brother took violin lessons together, and though not generally given to effusive displays, it was always Ali who had clapped louder than anyone when Toby performed one of his wild made-up songs, as he so often did for them. “You wait and see, Mom,” she used to tell Eleanor. “Toby’s going to be a rock star someday.”

Observing the scene at the hospital as she did that night—and knowing what it meant when a person stopped breathing for as long as Toby probably had—Al had conveyed an attitude of total resignation concealing despair. Yeah, right. The boy she had adored was gone. She had no intention of accepting a substitute.

Everything had happened so fast that there was only a blur of voices, faces, wailing. At first, all Eleanor had known was that with every passing second Toby’s brain cells might be dying, if they weren’t dead already. Hurry hurry hurry. Faster faster. Go. The metal cart had flown past, with the limp form of her son stretched out on it—still wearing the pink pajama top with a picture on the front of Pee Wee Herman that Ursula had handed down to him, that he never wanted to take off, and that crazy tail of his.

Just for a second an image came to Eleanor—who knew why?—of a television game show from her youth, Supermarket Sweep, where contestants raced through the aisles of a store—tearing around the supermarket corners as if it were the Indy 500, throwing groceries in their carts in the hopes of ringing up the highest total at the checkout to win the big prize.

Then dead stillness. Toby had been taken to a room somewhere on a bed, hooked up to so many tubes and wires that there would be no way of recognizing a child lay hidden in there.

Eleanor could only imagine the doctors working on him—this boy who, hours before, had filled his pockets with rocks, same as he always did, and wandered down to their pond (singing one of his made-up songs, most likely, or telling himself one of his wild stories). This was her amazing boy who talked to Mr. T and celebrated the webs between the toes of his left foot. “I’m part boy and part frog,” he’d told them. “I’m looking for my brothers.”

Sometimes he was a frog. Sometimes a dinosaur. Sometimes a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Michelangelo.

Inside the room Eleanor was not allowed to enter, a screen would have been monitoring the activity of her son’s brain cells. Not quite a flat line, but close.

No doubt all of these things happened that night, but now—close to a quarter century later—Eleanor can summon only the vaguest memory of these parts of the story, or of the endless twelve-minute drive to the hospital that came before it, following behind the ambulance, or the doctor coming out of the examining room, holding his clipboard, arranging his face before he spoke to them.

We did everything we could.

We’ll just have to wait and see. Assess the damage.

When she thinks about that night—as she still does, after all these years—the memory Eleanor keeps returning to is of her husband, Cam, and their two older children, Ali and Ursula, in the waiting room after they took Toby away to work on him. Eleanor’s brain stays stuck on this one image of Cam, standing in front of a vending machine in a corner of the visitors’ area, trying to buy a pack of peanut M&M’s for Ursula. The machine had taken his money but the M&M’s never dropped into the slot.

Unlike Eleanor—who, in those days, had regularly visited a place she’d named Crazyland—Cam was never one to display large or troubling measures of anger. He’d hit the side of the machine a couple of times, the way a person might when on the floor, playing with a young child whose toy—something battery operated—has temporarily gotten hung up on a piece of carpet or a table leg. No big deal. Tap tap. Off you go.

Cam had remained patient. Calm. Seemingly unfazed. The issue of the money lost to the candy machine was a problem he could solve, unlike the problem of what was going on with Toby.

To look at Cam as he was in that moment, a person would have had no clue.

He had approached the nurses’ station—still laid-back, with that easy, graceful ambling gait of his. He’d smiled at the nurse on duty—an unusually pretty young woman wearing a ponytail that seemed to shoot out from the top of her head like an erupting volcano and (God knows why Eleanor remembers this) an I HEART Boston Terriers button. This nurse had appeared to be charmed by Cam, as women always were—as everyone was—and even more so by the fact that here he was, this handsome red-headed dad who’d somehow ended up at the hospital on a beautiful summer day—evening now—which had to mean there was some kind of problem going on, but you’d never know this to look at him. The man who’d presented himself at the nurses’ station (flip-flops, shorts, just at that point in the day when an unshaven face appears its most sexy) looked like nothing more or less than a concerned father, just wanting to get a pack of peanut M&M’s for his daughters, and needing change.

“I was wondering if you could help us,” he’d told the nurse. “My girls haven’t had a thing to eat since lunch. The machine just took my last two quarters.”

A minute later there she was, the pretty nurse, with a couple of boxes of chocolate milk and three slices of cake, one with a candle in it. “What do you know?” she’d said. “It was my birthday today and the girls on the floor got me this. Perfect timing, huh?”

This is the part Eleanor remembers perfectly. The look on her husband’s face as the nurse handed him the plate.

From where she stood in the waiting room watching this scene play out (she stood, because to sit at this moment was impossible; she couldn’t stop pacing), Eleanor wanted to scream.

Our son might be dying. Our son might be dead. Or brain dead. What are you doing thinking about M&M’s? How can you eat cake?

She might have thought this, too—or maybe it was later when the next thought hit her. And it’s your fault.