'Light we Lost' author Jill Santopolo on her book's success — and getting an endorsement from one of her favorite actresses
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jill Santopolo
Credit: G.P. Putnam's Sons; Charles Grantham

Reese Witherspoon’s latest book club pick is The Light We Lost, an adult romance released early last year which has gradually caught fire with readers.

The book, written by Jill Santopolo, begins at Columbia University as two students meet and fall in love; they reconnect a year later, as if by fate, and then again and again over a dozen more years. It’s a sweeping love story that spans continents and doesn’t shy away from the challenges and jealousies that come with increasing distance.

Santopolo, whose previous work includes the YA romance Summer Love and the children’s book series Sparkle Spa, marks her adult debut with The Light We Lost. In the time since it was released last May, it’s found a big audience. And just in the past week, exciting news has started rolling in: Santopolo herself will get the chance to adapt her book for a film produced by Southpaw Entertainment, and Reese Witherspoon has selected The Light We Lost as her latest book club pick.

EW caught up with Santopolo to discuss the inspiration behind the book, the whirlwind of the past few weeks, and some of her favorite Witherspoon roles. Read on below, and buy the book (now in paperback) here.

What was the inspiration for this book? What made you want to tell this story?
This book was actually inspired by my own broken heart. Lucy’s story isn’t my story, but the emotions she grapples with throughout the book are things I was thinking about and trying to figure out. I wanted to write a story to assure anyone who has ever had a broken heart that they’re not alone — that love and loss are universal.

This was your first adult novel. How did you change your approach or preparation from your previous books?
When I write books, I think a lot about the characters I’m creating and make sure that the references I make and images I describe fit with that character’s age and life experience. So the fun part about writing this novel is that I got to use references and images that fit with an adult perspective. Because of that, I was able to explore so many things I couldn’t in books for young kids.

The book caught fire when it was released, and the buzz hasn’t let up. What’s that been like to experience?
It’s been incredible! I feel grateful every day. And amazed that a story that came from such a personal, intimate place has resonated with people all across the globe.

Talk a little bit about how this film deal came together and how you were given the chance to adapt the book yourself.
This film deal has felt a bit like a dream. Gabrielle from Southpaw Entertainment had read my book and really enjoyed it, so she reached out to my agents. When she and I spoke on the phone, her passion for the book came across so strongly that I knew she and Richard were the perfect people to work with on a film. And when they suggested that I adapt it so the film was sure to have the same voice as the book, the decision just felt right.

How are you approaching the script? Can you tease any changes or shifts in the way you plan to tell the story?
Gabrielle and Richard and I have talked about what scenes are absolutely essential to tell the story, and which ones might not be, and I’m reshaping the story from there. There also might be an extra scene at the end that isn’t in the novel, taking the story slightly further, but I’m not totally sure. I definitely plan to keep the voice and the narration style.

Any dream casting suggestions?
Truly, it’s a dream just getting to work on the film. But there are definitely a few actors who have been suggested that made my heart beat double time.

This is now a Reese Witherspoon book club selection. Do you have a favorite Reese role?
I feel honored that Reese chose my book for her book club. It was such a trip to see someone whose talent and beliefs I admire so much talking about The Light We Lost. As far as a favorite Reese roles — there are so many! How could you not love her in Legally Blonde? And Election. And Sweet Home Alabama. And Walk the Line. As you can see, I’m a big fan.