I’m sure there is an audience who will enjoy this book, it just doesn’t include me.
Robert always gets what he wants, literally; it’s a power of his that is both a blessing and a curse. At only 18 he feels he has the world at his feet and nothing to live for. However, when he arrives in LA he meets Indah and her friends, and thinks he may have found where he belongs. As his power strengthens and the group face a growing threat, he may come to find that there are some things even his abilities can’t grant.
Let me start by saying, although this is labeled as a standalone, if you haven’t either listened to the Bright Sessions podcast or read the first book, I recommend doing that first. A Neon Darkness was my introduction to the world, and I feel that was one of the biggest things stopping me for really enjoying it. This book is also labeled as an “origin story,” and without the word “hero” or “villain” in front of it, I thought it would just be the main character’s story of growth in general. Let me tell you, that is the farthest thing from the truth. Do NOT go in to this expecting character development from anyone. At all.
I really, really disliked Robert from the start. At first I understood that he was struggling with his power (to make others want what he wants), and empathized a bit. It was an interesting twist to have a character who gets everything they want, but still isn’t happy. However, when it became clear that Robert’s arc wasn’t going anywhere, I was extremely disappointed. Neon, Indah, and the others just keep having the same “don’t use your powers on us” argument with him over and over, which he would then ignore, and it got really tedious and repetitive.
Which leads me into my next issue: nothing really happens in this book, besides that same argument. The villain is very bland, and there isn’t really any resolution or point to his story (though I am not sure if this is another element that would be solved by having prior exposure to the Bright Sessions). Even the final confrontation with him in the book seems inconsequential. I was left going wait, that was it? That’s what the entire story was building to?
The only real bright spot in the whole book for me was the diversity. We have POC, Muslim, and LGBTQ+ representation which I really enjoyed (although I am not able to speak to the accuracy/sensitivity of all of the portrayals). All of the characters, with the exception of the MC were fairly interesting. However I couldn’t fully appreciate them because of Robert. I would have much preferred a novel about the tough, caring, and kick-butt quad (Neon, Marley, Indah, and Alex).
I never enjoy giving books poor ratings, but this one took me 8 whole days to get through. It felt so, so long at only about 250 pages. That being said, if you are already immersed in the Bright Sessions, this may be worth giving a go.
Star rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ 2/5
Intended audience: Young adult
Content warnings: sexual assault, drug abuse
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