Jen Wilde serves up her latest ball of gushy cuteness featuring characters of a diverse array of genders and sexualities.
Emmy King may be the super star drummer of The Brightsiders, one of the hottest teen rock bands around, but that doesn’t mean her life is easy. Her self centred parents only care about partying, and aren’t above using their daughter’s fame to make money. Meanwhile, her controlling girlfriend Jessie has just been slapped with DUI charge. With so much chaos in her life, can Emmy keep a clear head and stay on the straight and narrow? Or will she succumb to a life of drinking and recklessness, like her parents?
Last year, Jen Wilde took the YA community by storm with Queens of Geek; an ode to fandom, nerd culture, and above all, being true to yourself. Fans loved the unbridled enthusiasm with which Wilde celebrated all things geeky, and the racially and sexually diverse line up of characters included. Those who loved Queens of Geek will likely enjoy The Brightsiders, for it’s full of that same, loving sense of community (though this time, the focus is on “bandom” rather than fandom), and it’s arguably even more diverse than Queens of Geek. Emmy, our protagonist, is bisexual, and her band mate / bestie Alfie is genderqueer. In fact, pretty much no one in this book is straight (not that I’m complaining) and I think that’s something readers will really appreciate. Young audiences get that gender and sexuality are fluid, and that’s a concept that Wilde not only understands, but champions. I feel like readers have been crying out for more diversity of sexuality in YA for years, and here we have Jen Wilde serving it up in bucket loads. I mean, Emmy’s hairstyle on the cover is literally the bisexual pride flag! There’s also some racial diversity, and the issue of racism is briefly touched upon, though it’s not particularly a focal point of the story.
Much like Queens of Geek, The Brightsiders also features a hefty dose of romance. While Emmy has a girlfriend at the start of the book, their on again / off again relationship is undoubtedly toxic, and it’s not long before she starts to consider that she may just want more than friendship from Alfie. Emmy and Alfie are adorable and I loved their close bond. However, their relationship is certainly prone to melodrama given their celebrity lifestyles, Emmy’s drinking, and her jealous ex. Personally, I didn’t particularly mind the melodramatic aspects of the book, though there was a bit of a soap opera vibe at times. I will say, however, that Emmy did seem extremely young and naive at times. Though she’s 17/18 in the book, I would have guessed her to be a couple of years younger given how dramatic she can be, and her tendency to trust the wrong people (her parents and Jessie in particular). I also feel the book would have been better if both Jessie and Emmy’s parents had been more developed as characters. All three treat Emmy terribly and have literally no redeeming qualities to the point where the reader has to wonder why Emmy would choose to be around any of them. Basically, they’re two dimensional villains.
However, while I do have a few criticisms of the book, ultimately I loved it. The Brightsiders is an uplifting and ultimately feel good sort of book. Though it does deal with some serious issues, like Emmy’s drinking, for the most part I would describe The Brightsiders as a light and fluffy romance read. I finished this book in only two days (which is very fast for me, generally I’ll take closer to a week to read a book of this length) because I was so excited to keep squealing and swooning over the adorableness that is Emmy and Alfie. This book left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, which is exactly what I needed given that The Brightsiders is the first book I finished since reading It by Stephen King; a book that, in contrast, left me feeling angry and disgusted. I do think this book may fall on the side of being a bit too childish and cutesy for some readers, but if you enjoyed books like Anna and the French Kiss or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, then I’d definitely recommend The Brightsiders. Fans of Moxie, Leah on the Offbeat and Simon VS. The Homo Sapiens Agenda will also likely enjoy this book. As for me, I’d absolutely love to read more books like this, so if you have any recommendations, feel free to hit me up!