Review of Bright Lights, Dark Nights

Title: Bright Lights, Dark NightsImage result for bright lights, dark nights
Author: Stephen Emond
Publication Date: August 11, 2015
Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Number of pages: 384
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance/Graphic Novel

Goodreads synopsis:

“This is my spot,” Naomi said. “You can’t help but dream up here. I’m going to take my baby sis up here when she’s older so she can dream, too. You can see the whole world from up here.”

I could only see Naomi.

Walter Wilcox has never been in love. He just wants to finish high school under the radar with his 2.5 friends and zero drama. And then there’s Naomi Mills, an adorably awkward harpist with a habit of saying the wrong thing at the right time.

It’s inevitable that they’re going to get together…but they’re also on the unavoidable path to being torn apart.

First love meets first fights in this timely, honest, and heartbreaking story about race and relationships by acclaimed author Stephen Emond (Happyface).

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The cover of Bright Lights, Dark Nights immediately attracted my attention. I enjoy a good graphic novel, and this book is chocked full of Emond’s original concept art along with drawings of certain scenes and characters. His art style is incredibly unique and wonderful. It reminded me a lot of a more realistic Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of the Scott Pilgrim series.

Now for the actual story. The novel opens with Walter Wilcox narrating about a fight going on at a high school in the inner city, and I instantly fell in love with the setting–perhaps this was slightly because I started reading it on a flight to a borough just outside of New York City. Either way, the setting is beautifully crafted and it sucked me right in. The added artwork made me feel like I was really walking between the skyscrapers of the city–even though the story wasn’t actually set in NYC, a fact I didn’t realize until halfway through the novel.

Walter himself is dorky and lovable. He has “one wild hair curl” that hangs down on his forehead, wears thick glasses, reads comic books, memorizes rap lyrics, and only knows dance moves from the 60s. He is the ultimate sassy-nerdy kid, and I was rooting for him from the beginning.

Naomi, the main love interest, is a black girl that comes from a good family in the city, and is the sister of one of Walter’s friends, Jason. Jason and Walter’s relationship was only briefly touched on before Naomi was introduced, and Jason’s anger about his sister and Walter dating was a little off putting because of this, but it wasn’t unbelievable.

When Walter’s police officer father gets suspended and nearly sued for profiling and arresting a black teenager, everyone in Naomi’s family urges her to break up with Walter, which put a forbidden-love aspect on their relationship. Walter and Naomi were very fleshed out, and their back and forth wit is so lovable in a new romance. Neither of them have never had a real relationship before, and the way they stumble through the first experiences of love, such as kissing, fighting, and “becoming an item” had me clutching the book to my chest.

The real issue I had with the book was that the writing got incredibly choppy toward the middle. The beginning sets up a great atmosphere, but it looses  its quality as the author tries to introduce the radical race issues. I winced when Jason was continuously compared to a “stereotypical black character on a Nickelodeon sitcom.” (And that happened at least three times.) To me, it was a sign of weak writing, but the beautiful artwork pulled me through.

The climax isn’t very dramatic compared to the rest of the challenges that happen during the novel. There was quite a bit of needless drama, but then again, there seems to be a lot of needless drama in any race-related issues, so I understand why the author added it in.  Naomi and Walter have a huge fight for a small reason, and they stop talking to each other for the last third of the novel. I was a confused because the reason for the fight was so insignificant, but I rolled with it. Walter’s dad gets threatened online, and he ends up in the hospital due to stress-related issues with his diabetes. Too many elements for my taste, but Walter’s wit and reluctance to deal with the situations he was thrust into gives the story a coming-of-age twist that carries on to the end.

All in all, Bright Lights, Dark Nights was an incredibly enjoyable book. If you’re looking for a witty read that deals with the heavy topic of racism, grab this one off the shelves.

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