Review: Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen EmondBright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond
Published by Roaring Brook Press on August 11, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book Depository

A story about first love, first fights, and finding yourself in a messed up world, from the acclaimed author of Happyface.

Walter Wilcox has never been in love. That is, until he meets Naomi, and sparks, and clever jokes, fly. But when his cop dad is caught in a racial profiling scandal, Walter and Naomi, who is African American, are called out at school, home, and online. Can their bond (and mutual love of the Foo Fighters) keep them together?

With black-and-white illustrations throughout and a heartfelt, humorous voice, Bright Lights, Dark Nights authentically captures just how tough first love can be...and why it's worth fighting for.

Once again, we can start off the review with a little laughter at my expense. I looked at the cover of Bright Lights, Dark Nights, combined that with the fact that I knew it was illustrated, and made myself very excited for an interracial romance superhero book. At first I was very disappointed to realize that the superhero thing was one hundred percent in my own head, aside from some small mentions of superhero comics. Even knowing better, that cover still screams superhero book to me. Actually Bright Lights, Dark Nights (which I keep mistyping as Dark Knights fittingly) is more of a contemporary Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Emond handles a very current subject with a deft and light hand. As he says in the Author’s Note, “Books work best as a conversation not a monologue.” The goal of Bright Lights, Dark Nights isn’t to lecture the reader and deliver a precise moral. There are a lot of questions left dangling, intentionally, at the close of the novel. Emond’s goal is to make people think and question both society and themselves. This, I think, he achieves summarily.

The surface plot of racial tensions in a big American city is obviously one controversial not just now but for oh all of American history. Society’s come a long way in some respects but there’s a really long way to go. Bright Lights, Dark Nights walks hands in hands with #blacklivesmatter pointing out systemic racism, even in people who never thought of themselves that way and truly don’t believe such horrible things, like Walter Wilcox.

Walter’s father is a cop who gets caught up in a scandal and becomes known on the internet as #racistcop. It’s a very dramatic story and one so real and current that it’s really tough to handle. This is fiction certainly but it’s a very clear reflection of what our country is currently going through. That said, I think Emond deals with everything in the least dramatic possible way. That’s not to say that dark shit doesn’t go down because it does, but Emond doesn’t amp up the drama just for drama’s sake. There are a lot of quiet moments too.

The lens through which all of this is viewed is Walter, a shy, nigh invisible kid. He’s got issues from his parent’s divorce and is pretty much afraid of everything. Even before his dad’s case, his life starts to change when Naomi, his friend’s sister, shows  some interest in him. Though he doesn’t get why she’s into him, he pushes himself out of his shell. Their romance is sweet and cute and sarcastic.

I talk a lot about how I hate the trope of forbidden romance. It’s so obnoxious to me when everything and everyone is trying to keep a couple apart despite their pure, perfect love. In Bright Lights, Dark Nights, that’s sort of the case. However, the external pressures are also the internal ones because what Emond wants to look at is that deeply internalized racism indoctrinated by society. The romance doesn’t detract from the message but advances it.

I’d have liked to see, I think, some other perspectives. Also in the Author’s Note, Emond says that “once the topic is presented, [he wants] to converse through the characters, [he wants] to talk about it from each point of view.” However, in Bright Lights, Dark Nights, we just have Walter’s first person POV. Walter’s a good narrator, but, much as he tries to be non-judgmental, he still has his own view, and I’d like to see what was going on in Naomi’s head or Jason’s or Lester’s.

Bright Lights, Dark Nights really surprised me. I actually read it straight through. There’s something really compelling about this book, and the illustrations don’t hurt, though they didn’t really advance the story for me.

Favorite Quote:

That was the fighting. Because no one can fight the world we live in. You can’t punch the concrete walls, you can’t pull a gun on a city and tell it to change its ways, because you’re not gonna win. But you can change it by existing inside it, by being a part of it. You can replace all the broken bulbs and relight the darkest alleys, one at a time, until the whole thing glows bright like Main Street.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 gif black lives matter

2 responses to “Review: Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond”

  1. Brandy says:

    I also thought this was super hero book and felt incredibly betrayed when it wasn’t. I also didn’t love the voice/narration or maybe wasn’t in the mood for it at the time so I ended up DNFing. But this is one I plan to pick up a finished copy of try and again.
    Brandy recently posted…TTT: Books with Diverse CharactersMy Profile

  2. Lyn Kaye says:

    BEAUTIFUL review! I did think some of realities were slightly sugar-coated to make this a more attractive book, but it was edgy enough to be realistic and uncomfortable. I found it very sad when people would go to up to Walter praising his dad’s racism. That stung, but it was so important to put into the book. Because this is an angle I haven’t seen, outside the comment sections of news stories. How do you handle it when something so horrible is approved by people? I’m sure Walter hated to turn away support, but it was support for all of the wrong reasons.

    I wish the book had Naomi chapters. I wanted to author to explore the gender inequality in her family in much more depth. There was quite a bit of sexism from Jason and Naomi’s parents. For the mother and father, I understood that they meant well, but the suppression that Naomi faced made my stomach turn. Jason had private meetings with the parents about Naomi’s relationship? That seriously pissed me off. In fact, I felt that Jason got away with some horrible stuff, and it was never fully resolved. There was little to no resolution in the book, but this part was heartbreaking, and I felt that it needed a lot more focus.
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Garden Gazette: July Wrap-UpMy Profile

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