This month I selected the book The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise for my Teen Book Club to read. It’s advertised as the next The Fault in Our Stars because it’s about two teens with cancer but for as much as the two books have in common there’s just as much that’s different about them.
In Amber Sunrise, the main character Francis is a relatable, slightly narcissistic 15 year old who cares a lot about what other people think about him and calculates pretty much every one of his sentences and reactions. When he’s diagnosed with cancer he meets a girl named Amber who is snarky and sarcastic and even though they’re nearly total opposites they quickly bond and, naturally, fall in love.
In all honesty what I loved about this book was some of the character descriptions and some beautiful prose that would pop up here and there throughout the story. Other than that, I had a similar to reaction to The Fault in Our Stars book which was: “meh”. I love TFIOS film because it took out pretty much everything that I hated in the book, so maybe I’m not crazy for not agreeing with pretty much 99% of the general population. The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise was originally published a couple of years ago in the UK under the title In Bloom and the entire time I was reading I thought I liked that title better… until the very end when an extremely subtle passage makes you realize why the US version has the title that it does, and I started crying. After losing a friend last year, I completely related to this and shared the same feelings of hopelessness and anger and sorrow over having to move on and reading it hit me like a ton of bricks. This passage is a spoiler-alert but if you read the book jacket you already know how the story goes. If you don’t want to know the ending, skip ahead!
I stayed up all night the next New Year’s Eve. I wanted to claw at the year before, to catch it in my hands and drag myself back into it. I knew that once the New Year came Amber’s death would no longer be something that had happened. Soon she would enter the past tense… I cried as the sun rose on January the first. Amber’s death felt like the last thing we could ever do together. Of course her bit of it was over. But grieving for her, loving her, missing her… they were all things I still had to do.
I don’t think grief is the same for everyone but I do believe that everyone goes through similar hurdles when it comes to grief’s relationship with time. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, that time you talked until the early hours of the morning that started out about T.V. shows and turned into how social media hindering real life experiences with each other. Time moves on and it feels wrong. Some days are numb, some days you sob out of nowhere, and some days are maybe even okay. That’s what a lot of this story is about and even though this book isn’t one of my all-time favorites, I do appreciate the author’s realism with handling grief.
I’ll end this with a couple of my favorite passages that made me both nod with approval and laugh out loud, so they’re winners to me.
More than losing my virginity, more than cancer, more even than the time I saw a lady fall over in the street and didn’t laugh, this was the exact moment I felt the last shred of my childhood disintegrate.
But I knew boys like Paul… boys like him were, essentially, pasta. Everyone thought they loved him because they had never been forced to experience the true blandness of him on his own.
…Then she figured it might be an allergy of some sort, so she threw out all the toiletries and replaced them with white bars of soap that said soap-free on the packet (!?).