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Monday, March 9, 2015

Review: The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow

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Title: The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise
Author: Matthew Crow
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pub. Date: March 10, 2015
Genre: Young Adult
Rec. Age Level: 14+
Pages: 304
More by this author: N/A
A poignant and unexpectedly funny novel about Francis - one of the best and bravest teenage boy narrators since Adrian Mole. This is an emotionally honest story about wanting the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad things can be.

Francis Wootton's first memory is of Kurt Cobain's death, and there have been other hardships closer to home since then. At fifteen years old he already knows all about loss and rejection - and to top it all off he has a permanently broke big brother, a grandma with selective memory (and very selective social graces) and a mum who's at best an acquired taste. Would-be poet, possible intellectual and definitely wasted in Tyne and Wear, Francis has grown used to figuring life out on his own. Lower Fifth is supposed to be his time, the start of an endless horizon towards whatever-comes-next. But when he is diagnosed with leukemia that wide-open future suddenly narrows, and a whole new world of worry presents itself. There's the horror of being held back a year at school, the threat of imminent baldness, having to locate his best shirt in case a visiting princess or pop-star fancies him for a photo-op . . . But he hadn't reckoned on meeting Amber - fierce, tough, one-of-a-kind Amber - and finding a reason to tackle it all - the good, the bad and everything in between - head on. The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise is a bright, funny, painful and refreshing novel about wanting the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad it can be. It is a novel about how to live.
My goodness, I adore this novel so incredibly much. Yes, it's another cancer book about a teen falling in love with a fellow patient and discovering what it means to live while his body is dying, but here's the thing: this book is so much more than the familiar premise. 
“He had to be nice to me at the moment because he had to be surrounded by people. This was because 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.”  - from The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise
When you read The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise's description, you might automatically think of The Fault in Our Stars, Before I Die, and all the rest. Then you'll assume you've already read this story. But you haven't... because you haven't met Francis, his family, or Amber, characters that make this novel shine, allowing it to stand out from the mountain of other books with similar plots and conceits. Despite this being sick-lit, it's incredibly funny, due to both Francis' wry observations and his colorful family. His mother, brother, and grandmother all play large parts in the novel and, despite what the novel's summary implies, I think of it as more of an exploration of family relationships than romantic relationships. 
“Mum just laughed gleefully at his mounting frustration, like the villainous matriarch in a Roald Dahl story. I suspect a TV guide would describe her idea of comedy as 'dark', or, at very best, 'alternative'.”- from The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise
Like the characters, this book is sometimes happy and sometimes sad. Sometimes it's about cancer, but, most of the time it's about everything but cancer.  It truly is a story about learning to live, even when you've been dealt an unfair hand. There aren't any characters within these pages that give up or stop living their lives, even when there might not be that much time left for them to live it. It's not melodramatic and it isn't falsely cheery or optimistic. Instead it feels like you're peeking into Francis' life, watching the exhilarating ups and the difficult downs as they truly are, as people live them everyday despite all types of struggles and drama.
“Grandma's house had the atmosphere of a Tupperware box left out in the sun. Like a tropical flower, she had to be kept warm and moist at all times, or she would wilt and die.”- from The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise
The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise was originally published in the UK as In Bloom and some of the slang and colloquialisms remain, giving the novel an extra bit of charm for American readers like me. There were a couple phrases and references that gave me pause and took a second or two to figure out, but I never found this particularly distracting or troublesome. 

Ignore the fact that this book has a familiar premise and add it to your to-read pile. The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise and its quirky characters will undoubtedly lodge themselves firmly in your heart and you'll be glad you took my advice!


  1. I love the cover of this book and it sounds really good!

  2. Great review. This one is on my TBR for sure. The cover is gorgeous!

  3. I love how bright and colorful it is too!

  4. So glad to hear that, Cynthia! And I totally agree about the cover!


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