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I was at a Half Price Books in my hometown looking for something to read, and I was intrigued by the general lack of description on this book jacket. Plus it was an award winner, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. So it’s probably a good thing that I had few expectations for this book from the get go, because even with none to begin with, I was disappointed with how this all turned out.
The general premise of the book is this (SPOILERS): Phoebe is a regular teenager already facing regular teenager-type problems (parents divorcing, experiencing the distancing of her sister, etc.) when Leonard Pelkey comes to live with her family. Leonard has lost his mother and Phoebe’s uncle passes him off to them. Leonard is gay, or at least flamboyant, and he is alienated by Phoebe and other kids at school. One day, he goes missing, and Phoebe suddenly decides to care about him. At the same time, Phoebe is seeing Travis, a bully who is more than he seems. Eventually, Leonard is found drowned at the bottom of the lake, a murder, and as it turns out, Travis is the murderer. The novel implies that it was a hate crime, but also suggests that the two boys were friends.
This was a hugely ambitious book. The plot has so much potential, but the final product is brought up short by some basic issues with the writing. This is perhaps what made reading this so frustrating to me- the problems that I see with the writing are really simple ones that could easily have been fixed by a Writing 101 class, and SHOULD have been fixed by an editor.
For example, the difference between “showing” and “telling” in your writing is fundamental. “Absolute Brightness” is a whole lot of telling, and the things that are shown through scenes and dialogue seem weak. Lecesne uses summary in all the wrong places, such as when he’s describing all the good things Leonard does, or at important dialogue scenes between characters (the last one between Phoebe and Jimbo comes to mind). The end result of this for me was that by the time the novel was finished, I felt like the author had been talking at me for 400 pages, not engaging me with the characters.
If you made me do one of those 7th grade reading comprehension worksheets about the book, and it said “Describe the character of Phoebe,” I’m not sure I could put down any other words besides “female” and “confused.” She does not come off the page as a very dynamic character. Neither does anyone else. Unfortunately, the main thing I’d say about Phoebe is that she is used as a microphone for the author to talk. I’m not sure she really has any of her own thoughts, but rather spouts things about sex, good and evil, love, war…and in the end you don’t have a character, just a parrot.
The thing is, this book actually starts to get really interesting AT THE END. That’s when you start to get into the whole debacle on the death penalty (another microphone session) but it’s also when you start to get into the aftermath of the crime. I want the author to tell me why Travis killed his friend, and what happens with him and Phoebe. Travis is the one interesting character, and his story is cut short. I feel like Lecesne didn’t have a good grip on whose story he was telling, when it started and ended, and what he ultimately wanted to say.
There are good things about this book. The issue of hate toward gays is relevant and should be discussed, as well as many other topics the author presents. But you have to be a really good writer to make all that flow smoothly, and unfortunately “Absolute Brightness” is just not that well written.