Published by St. Martin's Press on October 6th, 2015
A troubled teen, living in Paris, is torn between two boys, one of whom encourages her to embrace life, while the other—dark, dangerous, and attractive—urges her to embrace her fatal flaws.
Haunting and beautifully written, with a sharp and distinctive voice that could belong only to this character, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unforgettable young adult novel.
Summer Barnes just moved to Paris to repeat her senior year of high school. After being kicked out of four boarding schools, she has to get on track or she risks losing her hefty inheritance. Summer is convinced that meeting the right guy will solve everything. She meets two. Moony, a classmate, is recovering against all odds from a serious car accident, and he encourages Summer to embrace life despite how hard it can be to make it through even one day. But when Summer meets Kurt, a hot, mysterious older man who she just can't shake, he leads her through the creepy underbelly of the city-and way out of her depth.
When Summer's behavior manages to alienate everyone, even Moony, she's forced to decide if a life so difficult is worth living. With an ending that'll surprise even the most seasoned reader, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is an unputdownable and utterly compelling novel.
I’ve been staring at this empty screen for a while, wondering what the hell I’m supposed to say at this book. Usually middling ratings lead to lots of things to hash out but right now I’m just at a loss for words. This book was strange – in many good ways, and many not-so-good ways. It’s not my typical read, but I’m glad I picked it up anyway, though I’m not sure how to recommend it.
Romancing the Dark in the City of Light sort of sounds like a contemporary romance love triangle type book. And I guess that’s true. But there’s a hidden depth here that I hadn’t expected just from the jacket copy. Summer, our lead character, is suffering from suffocating depression and alcoholism. She needs to drink just to get through the day, and even then it sometimes doesn’t work. She is suicidal and craves the attention and direction of an actual parent, having a practically absent mother, and her father being six years passed. It was these elements of the story, along with the budding relationship with Moony, that really made this story interesting and allowed me to push past the flaws.
This book could easily have suffered from the much-hated “a boyfriend can save you” trope. At the beginning of the book, Summer is looking for someone to be with romantically, hoping that that romance will save her from herself. She thinks a boyfriend will ease the loneliness and give her a reason to push forward. Romantic love cannot save you from depression – but you know what? Love itself can give you the push you need to want to get help. I’m very glad to report that Romancing the Dark enforced the latter idea – that love and relationships (of all kinds, really) are what make life worth living. Summer starts with friendship first and then moves to romance with Moony. She even rebuilds her relationship with her mother. These things are instrumental in her wanting to live, but they do not cure her addiction or her depression and that was important to me.
And let me tell you about Moony really quick! I always urge others to shout about hidden diversity in the books they read so I would be remiss not point this out: Moony is half-Kuwaiti, Muslim, and disabled, and he’s a love interest. Summer is white and straight and cis and extremely financially privileged and so this makes for an interesting pairing when it comes to discussions of faith and culture and also disability. I can’t speak to how well Moony’s experiences were portrayed, but I loved that he kind of met his recovery – and Summer’s questions and misconceptions – head-on.
Each end of this love triangle was obviously a metaphor for Summer’s battle with her suicidal thoughts. Moony who had faced death and longed to live was the perfect counter to Kurt, who brought out all of Summer’s darkness. I was fine with this dichotomy, but I wish the relationship with Kurt was developed more. Summer is inexplicably drawn to Kurt and his darkness and weirdness. And they are all over each other and professing feelings that came from actually, literally nowhere. If the time had been taken to build up this relationship it all would have been not just more believable, but more compelling and interesting to read about. The back and forth pull between Kurt and Moony would have been more intense, and it would have been less easy to see the ending coming – especially since we were promised an “ending we won’t see coming.” Because this relationship was underdeveloped it made it even worse when Kurt continued to sexually harass and assault Summer, and when Summer kept going back to him.
Finally, I just felt that the writing left a wall between the reader and Summer. I just don’t connect well with third person present tense. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way about books written in the same style. I wish, because of Summer’s mental illness and addiction, that this had been written in first person. I think it would make it a lot easier for other readers, especially readers who don’t have firsthand experience with these things, to connect with her.
All in all, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light was an interesting read. There was a small twist that I kind of but didn’t exactly guess, and the ending was intense, with the last chapters melancholy but hopeful. I’m grateful that there was a strong focus on treatment and recovery both from accident and injury and from mental illness. And while the writing was distant, it was also lovely.