I keep telling myself I don’t like romance novels, especially YA romance. And then a book comes along and makes me reconsider my feelings and thoughts about the romance genre. Bright Lights, Dark Nights (BL,DN) is one of those books.
BL, DN is about Walter Wilcox, a white teen, and Naomi Mills, a black teen and sister to Walter’s friend, Jason Mills. Walter and Naomi meet and quickly bond over their anti-social ways, their love of music and a Dave Grohl joke. It’s not long before they’re dating, but their relationship is quickly threatened when Walter’s dad, a cop, is caught up in a case of racial profiling.
I will admit I have a stereotype of what romance in YA books looks like and based on the stereotype, I try to stay away from any books that focus exclusively on love. And I think the main reason why I decided to read this book was because of the racial profiling case in the story. But the romance between Walter and Naomi quickly became one of my favorite aspects of the story. They’re not your typical jock and cheerleader or brooding hero and doe-eyed heroine. Walter and Naomi (or Wallomi as Naomi says at one point) are two nerdy teens who prefer the quiet atmosphere of their homes over the loud and crass air of a high school party. They’re witty and they have great banter, especially in the early stages of their relationship. They’ve never had a relationship before and for a while they struggle to understand what exactly is going on between them. To be honest, they have the type of relationship that I hope to have one day. They’re not without their faults. Naomi loves to speak her mind and Walter prefers to hide everything away. Naomi pushes Walter to open up more, because she can see how keeping his feelings bottled up is hurting him. But in the end, they love each other and they’re willing to fight the world in order to stay together.
And of course, Naomi and Walter must deal with the external threats to their relationship. I’m sure most people are mildly familiar with the recent racial profiling cases and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Stephen Emond does an excellent job of capturing the sensationalism that comes along with these types of stories. Everyone wants to give their opinion, not realizing that they may not be positively contributing to the actual dialogue. And Emond also does a good job of tackling internalized racism. Walter’s dad is the epitome of someone who has racial stereotypes ingrained into his system. And while I’m happy that by the story’s end, Officer Wilcox seems to have a change of heart, I’m not too pleased with HOW this change came about. I won’t spoil it, but I wished for some big dramatic scene that forced Officer Wilcox to examine his own personal beliefs and views.
Lastly, I want to point on the illustrations! This was my first illustrated YA novel and when I first started reading, I thought the illustrations were cool, but I worried they would annoy me. Thankfully, that never happened! I loved every single illustration, but my favorite comes towards the middle of the book where Naomi takes Walter to the top of a building at night and two full pages of the city’s landscape is put in. This book is good, but the illustrations makes it even better!
I’d recommend this to anyone who wants a cute and quirky romance story. And there are some nice points about social media and the role it plays during high profile cases. The illustrations are awe-inducing! If you’re in need of a good book, then definitely pick this one up!