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Review: Bright Before Sunrise
The Plot: Is it possible for one night to make a difference in a person’s life?
Jonah and Brighton are about to find out.
The Good: First things first: I loved this book. I loved Jonah and Brighton, separate and apart.
Jonah, a senior, is counting down the days for the school year to end (eleven, if you’re curious.) He hates his snobby new town, Cross Pointe, and just wants to be in his old town, with his friends, his girlfriend, and they way his life used to be. Before. Before his mother met someone new, got pregnant, divorced his father, and took Jonah with her.
His mom now has her perfect new husband, and new baby, and new house, in a new town, and Jonah has — . Well, Jonah has a grudge so big it could have its own zip code. He’s angry, he’s mad, he’s rude, he’s OH SO MANY FEELINGS AND HURT. Jonah has every reason to be hurt and betrayed. Did I mention that the new husband, Paul, was Jonah’s physical therapist? So, yes, it’s because of Jonah that the two met. Jonah’s guilt over this is compounded by the fact that his father agrees; it’s why Jonah isn’t living with him.
Man, I hated Paul and how he treated Jonah. And this is one reason I love Bright Before Sunrise: yes, Paul is a bit brusque with Jonah. (Actually, the word I wrote in my reading journal begins with “a”.) But, but, but. But Schmidt, over the course of the book (so some of this is spoilers), gives enough over the course of the book to help the reader realize that Paul isn’t that bad. That Jonah’s mother may have left her husband, yes, but only because she was human. His mother was only nineteen when Jonah was born; she and Jonah’s husband fought. Jonah’s father is never shown, but that he blames and abandons his son is enough to make me think he wasn’t the nicest. Paul, I think, is both feeling guilty about this but also, quite honestly, is someone not used to what teen boys are like and so isn’t as understanding as he could be.
All this matters because its shaped Jonah, as he is now. Which, basically, is a sulky, broody boy who has reason to be so, but not to be so for so long. Jonah has a lot going for him: he’s smart, he’s going to college, his mother loves him, his baby sister adores him. Bottom line: it’s time for Jonah to “snap out of it”, and that is where Brighton comes in.
Brighton could practically be Miss Cross Pointe. She’s a junior, super involved, under a lot of self-imposed pressure to be perfect. (Truth be told? I pictured her as Tracy Flick like, and I LOVE Tracy Flick, so that’s a compliment.) To Mr. I Hate Cross Pointe, she represents everything he hates. Because it’s not just his mother’s remarriage that makes him hate the town. He hates it because he comes from a blue collar town, and Cross Pointe is privileged and preppy and snobby.
When a classmate sees Jonah’s baby sister’s sock, she asks, “Is it your daughter’s? It’s so cute. She’s smiling, but there’s something off about the question. Besides the fact that it’s none of her business, she looks too eager, almost hungry, for my answer. “You’re from Hamilton, right?”
Because in the Cross Pointe world, Hamilton is that scary place with teen parents. Those kids aren’t like Cross Pointe kids. A well meaning teacher, himself a native of Cross Pointe, describes Jonah with “some people are takers,” because Jonah has refused to become involved in any volunteer projects. I love the privilege, the elitism, represented in that simple statement — and I love it all the more because it’s just a fact in the book. It’s not something where there are any great changes in that viewpoint.
There is one person, other than Jonah, who changes, and that is Brighton.
Here’s the thing about Brighton — and Jonah, only five months in town, doesn’t know it — Brighton may have the house, clothes, money like any other Cross Pointe family, but she doesn’t have a father. He died five years ago. His loss, and its impact on her mother and sister, is what has driven Brighton to be the perfect daughter; or, at least, the perfect daughter she thinks he would want her to be. I love Brighton because she’s a bit snobby, but in the way that teens from a town like Cross Pointe may be (and will be, well into college.) I love her because she’s good hearted: part of it is because that is what her father would want, and part of it is because that is just who she is.
Brighton and Jonah spend time together, over the course of twenty four hours. In that time, yes, the fall for each other (of course!). Being with Brighton, and what they share, also helps Jonah realize that he’s been biting off his nose to spite his face; that in freezing out his mother and new town, he’s frozen himself. For Brighton, she realizes that — just like Jonah — she’s painted herself into a corner. She doesn’t quite know herself. One thing she is — and this is why I see her as Tracy Flick — Brighton is angry. She is so angry she doesn’t know what to do with it, so keeps it buried so deep she doesn’t even know she is angry. It’s all internalized, because she’s the “good” girl.
I won’t talk about how Brighton and Jonah get from two people who barely know each other to two people who become something more; or the events of the night they share that bring them closer together. I mean, read the book!
I will add this: I hate, hate, hate — did I say hate? cheating. As much as I sympathize with Jonah’s mother, I wanted to shake her and say, she should have left his father years ago, instead of waiting for a new man to come along — but, some people are like that. They need someone; and they can’t tell when something is over until there is a new someone. So, when I began Bright Before Sunrise, knowing there would be a romance between Jonah and Brighton, and then saw mention of Jonah’s girlfriend, I was like WHAT???? I won’t give details, but I’ll say this: there is no cheating. And it’s very believable that Jonah could start with a girlfriend, yet end up with Brighton, in the course of one night.
This is a Favorite Book Read in 2014. Because I loved Jonah and Brighton, even if at times I didn’t like them. Because I love the flawed parents and adults. Because a good romance is hard to find — especially one that takes place under such a short time frame.
Filed under: Reviews
About Elizabeth Burns
Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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