Book Review: Bright Lights, Dark Nights by Stephen Emond
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, who is white, 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.
Walter can’t believe it when his crush on Naomi is reciprocated. She’s the smart, funny, harp-playing sister of his friend Jason. They banter over a family dinner at her place and make plans to go to a Foo Fighters concert. Naomi’s parents don’t want her dating anyone, period, so they keep things on the down low. Walter is kind of a quiet guy who likes to stay off people’s radar anyway, plus he suspects Jason won’t be thrilled to find out that Walter is dating his sister.
All of this is happening while Walter’s dad is constantly in the news for alleged racial profiling. At first Walter can’t believe that there’s any truth to this story, but starts to wonder about it as more details come to light. His dad, meanwhile, seems to be making things worse by trying to respond to every comment on the internet that is about his case. Walter sees the hatred being spewed from all sides online and, predictably, it starts to show up in his real life, too. Walter and Naomi tell her parents that they are dating, and Naomi’s parents don’t think it’s a good idea because of what is going on with Walter’s dad and how it is stirring up their community. The teens try to argue that what is going on with his dad and the conversations it is generating in their community has nothing to do with them. Naomi’s parents eventually back down, but her dad says, “I just want to make this very clear, what we’re talking about. Walter, you’re a white boy, and, Naomi, you’re a black girl. I don’t have any issue with that, and wish you the best. But what your father is involved with right now involves white and black. Those two words have a lot of history that you kids just don’t know about. And that’s what worries me.” Naomi responds with, “That’s your generation.” And, of course, Naomi’s dad is right—before they know it, their relationship is under scrutiny, with pictures of them ending up online and people speculating if Walter’s son dating a black girl is just damage control or what.
This novel is a very personal look at racism. Walter is forced to think about race and racism in ways that he hasn’t yet had to. It affects not just his relationship with Naomi but also with his dad and his friends. He sees how easily hatred can spread on the internet and how hard it is to know the truth of a situation. He is confronting Big Things and trying to understand them from different points of view. This would be a great book to use in a literature class in high school because of the content and the discussions it would generate. In my notes I had written that this book is timely, given its plot about racial profiling from police, but the reality is that this book and its conversations about racism has always been and will always be timely. As with Emond’s other books, I loved the interplay between the story and art. The city spreads out over pages and spot art shows little peeks at scenes from around their school, neighborhood, homes, and dates. Emond has a great ear for dialogue—Walter and Naomi’s conversations are both clever and deep. I’m hoping the great cover and interesting format of being partially illustrated will help move this book off the shelves and into the hands of readers. Emond leaves readers with plenty to think about in this love story that is as sweet as it is complicated.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 08/11/2015
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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