The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde is a story about fame and misfortune, queer identities, and being true to yourself even when it’s terrifying. I really loved the author’s previous book, Queens of Geek, and how that one was an incredible geek-loving story featuring autistic and Australian characters from an Aussie author of our own! The Brightsiders definitely had a different feel, but if you like Wilde’s work, this is very much worth picking up still. (Although it is set firmly in America this time! Although the gang from Queens of Geek make a cameo which I thought was fun.)
The story follows Emmy King, a celebrity drummer with the rock band The Brightsiders. They’re trio of Alfie, Ryan and Emmy all exploded into fame fairly overnight and they’re still teens, trying to keep their heads above water and grapple with this intense fame, as well as make the music that they love. Emmy comes from a toxic partying family and unfortunately, when things get stressful, that’s where she slides back to. When the story opens, she’s been underage drinking and ends up in a minor accident, which the paparazzi and media gobble up like golden gossip: look at this teen celebrity falling apart. Emmy is determined to get her life back on track and she has an epic support network of friends…but she also has plenty of toxic people she needs to learn how to deal with. And as she starts slowly falling for one of her band mates (baaad idea) she has to ask if this is love or is she avoiding her own fears and anxieties?
Books centring around music, especially famous musicians, are always intensely interesting to me! It reminded me of Open Road Summer and I Was Born For This immediately, with teens making messy mistakes…but now in such public view that it has huge repercussions for their careers. Emmy is a very earnest character and you quickly feel for her as she feels smothered by the media, haunted by her awful parents, and just wants to please people and have them like her. People Pleasing does nooot go well for her in this one.
It also explores the difference between toxic vs healthy relationships and friendships. This is such a good topic to unpack, because every teen faces that horrible decisions of not knowing whether to keep people in your life (you’re used to them, grown up with them, maybe even in love with them) or break away and take care of your own mental health. I loved Emmy’s gang, wither her team mates Ryan and Alfie being intensely supportive of her, and also her best friend Chloe, showing up to smack her back into reality. The book is totally friendship-centric. And very very queer! Almost every character identifies somewhere on the lgbtqia+ spectrum, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s really nice also reading books with a genderqueer love interest!
The Brightsiders is really a story about healing and friendship, with a forbidden and intense romance on the side. It feels more upper-YA with all the teens having finished school and now working their gigs without parents (or avoiding awful parents). And it’s so refreshing to read a book so unapologetically proud of its rainbow pride!