Over three quarters of Riding With Brighton by Haven Francis takes place in one day. It is told in alternating points of view and the main character, Jay Hall, and his decision to finally come to terms with what he has been hiding about himself is the real focus of the story. The real Jay has been locked away for so long and all that time he’s been watching Brighton. Brighton is fiercely beautiful, not only in appearance, but in personality. Out and proud, he has supportive parents and siblings and is friendly to just about everyone he meets. When Jay makes the decision to turn his life around and be who he really is, it’s Brighton he goes to for help.
So begins a journey into a town Jay thought he knew with a boy who he is sure he could possibly love and with it all the consequences that he was never really prepared to have happen. In that short twenty-four hours, life would change for Jay irrevocably and those who he thought were friends would slide away to be replaced by new ones waiting to see how far he was truly willing to go in declaring his sexuality. Along the way, many emotions would be triggered, regret would rear its ugly head, and a deep flinty layer of strength would rise inside Jay Hall that he never knew existed.
It’s hard to encapsulate all the really good and honest things about this story in a short review such as this. The several pages of encouragement/exhortation near the end of the novel are key to understanding what this author wanted to convey to her readers, I think. To paraphrase the author, the idea is to live your life fully right now, speak your mind, change what needs to be change, and find your happiness or you will regret it. The beauty of those sentiments is that they are not just spoken by Jay, but lived out by Brighton so fully. He encapsulates the best of gay youth. Some might say his is a more idyllic character than real, but I wouldn’t make that criticism. Instead, I would say that Brighton is a fairly realistic example of a young man who had great parents and all the advantages a stable, loving home can offer.
Jay, on the other hand, has a family that we so often read about these days where the parents are torn—one supportive, the other in deep denial. His friends are much the same and I really loved how this author gave Jay keen awareness of the fact that not only did his life not fit who he really was, but also most of his friends didn’t either. Even though this entire novel took place over the course of what turned out to be a few days, you knew that Jay had been grappling with his decision for quite some time. He was realistic about how the whole thing was going to go down and even though everyone from Brighton on questioned whether Jay was really ready to be out to the world, he knew he had to break the walls holding him in. He was so brave and so vulnerable—it was quite lovely to read.
Riding With Brighton is one of those books that should be on bookshelves in every library and required reading in every high school English class. It not only is a well-written and beautiful story, but its message is a positive one—something our youth today rarely get to hear but desperately need.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.