I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond
Published by Roaring Book Press on August 11th, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
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.
I didn’t know much about Bright Lights, Dark Nights before I picked it up – aside from the fact that it had an interracial romance and gorgeous illustrations. I’m delighted to say that I found this an engaging, quick read that had both light and dark tones and some thought-provoking discussion of modern-day racial tensions.
A heavy focus of Bright Lights, Dark Nights is on a first love – between the main character, Walter, and an African American girl, Naomi. That romance is not uncomplicated, as interracial relationships often aren’t. And on top of that, Naomi happens to be the younger sister of one of Walter’s best friends. He *might* not handle that in the best way, according to the Bro Code. But the bulk of this romance is super sweet and loaded with banter. Seriously, so much banter. The two connect through different geeky habits and hobbies and keep up wonderful gags (like, that Dave Grohl is Walter’s uncle because obvi).
I didn’t expect the romance to be that adorable – but Walter’s a pretty nervous, shy, introverted guy, so it was sweet. It definitely had all the qualities of first love – being terrified of the first kiss, of holding hands, of becoming “official”. It was a bit nostalgic for me, ngl. And that made Walter really easy to connect with. He’s also carrying some extra heavy familial baggage because of his parents’ divorce. There are some great themes there about forgiving and moving forward, letting your grudges go even if it’s hard. I related to that a lot as a child of divorce. Walter’s parents did not split amicably, so much so that the kids were basically forced to choose sides. That’s painful. And tough. No kid should be put in that position. It builds up walls and prevents you from realizing that maybe divorce was the right option – because the marriage just wasn’t healthy regardless of who perpetrated which unforgivable act.
Anyway, things come to a head when Walter’s policeman father gets caught up in a racial profiling and police brutality scandal. His glory days were long gone, so when he thought he caught a serial neighborhood burglar, he rejoiced at being dubbed a hero once again. That is until the kid retracts his confession and his family threatens the police department with lawsuits. The community gets caught in the uproar, and Walter’s invisibility dissipates. His relationship is called into question, and he finds himself the target of some of the bullies at his school. Slowly this makes him see some of the white privilege and subconscious racism that has lingered in his family – the boundaries between law and order and prejudice. As this is a pretty hot topic nowadays, I feel this book is an important read – one that really makes you think.
However, I think the problem with the racial aspect of the book is that compared to what we’ve seen in the news so much over the past year, this is quite mild. It almost feels dated, and that’s probably fair – this was undoubtedly written long before Ferguson happened. But there’s been so much coverage and discussion about institutional and subconscious racism recently, that I couldn’t help but feel like Emond could have done more with that in the book. It scratched the surface, yeah, but it didn’t quite pack a punch. Maybe because of current events I expected the book to get much darker than it did, and so I was a bit disappointed.
The biggest selling point, and what convinced me to pick this book up in the first place, was the illustrations – and it remains my favorite part of the book. That might be lame or childlike, but I cannot resist illustrations, and I feel like they could benefit just about any book out there. Emond’s drawing style is absolutely gorgeous, and he excellently plays on the noir movies his character is such a fan of. It all worked brilliantly to evoke a more tangible feeling of what it’s like to live in an urban area as a kid – a place that’s not always safe but has some other beautiful qualities too. Knowing that Emond also illustrated his other books, I’m much more likely to pick those up now.